Easy to read with a lot of depth
Eleven-year-old Tash has been carted off to camp against her will, and she'll be there for a month while her uncle/foster father Kevin visits New Zealand. Tash would have preferred to stay with their elderly neighbor, Cap'n Jackie. Cap'n Jackie tells awesome stories about Draphin (an imaginary pet dolphin-dragon), and she bakes magical cookies. Unfortunately, Jackie and Kevin have teamed up against Tash, and the three are separated for a month and only able to communicate through letters and emails. Tash is stunned and hurt to find that everything has changed when they're finally reunited.
THE KEY TO EVERYTHING by Pat Schmatz begins with Tash's departure for camp, and the first chapter is told largely through correspondence. When Tash returns home, she feels that she's a little more grown-up, but she's not quite ready to deal with the news that Cap'n Jackie has had an accident that landed her first in the hospital and then in a rehab facility. Cap'n Jackie's injuries aren't only physical, either. The agoraphobic woman doesn't manage the transition to life outside of her home, and she's largely unresponsive to Tash, Kevin, and anyone else. Basically, she's completely given up on life--and as a result, Tash really has to grow up fast.
THE KEY TO EVERYTHING is amazing in its complexity--especially considering the book's brevity--but it's also easy to read. The characters are great (I particularly enjoyed Tash), and the story is engaging. It stretches the definition of family and faces the topics of phobias, anger management, and grief in a way that is accessible to middle school readers. It also touches on addiction, and it handles all of those heavy topics with a combination of openness and innocence.
The final chapter of THE KEY TO EVERYTHING is a tear-jerker, and the book comes to a satisfying ending without tying everything up TOO neatly.
I really enjoyed this book, and I definitely recommend it. My thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
Examines a myriad of difficult topics really well