Review Detail

Kids Fiction 1044
Troubled small town life
Overall rating 
 
4.5
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
4.0
Lowen Grover and his family have a decent life in the city, but after his best friend is shot at a convenience store along with three other children, the off from a small town to buy a house for a dollar has a lot of appeal. Millville is struggling with the closing of its paper mills a while ago, and the town needs more families with children in order to keep the schools going. The Grovers have careers the town wants (the mother wants to open a pasty take out shop, and the father is a physician's assistant), and Clem and Anneth are interested in helping out the sports teams, although Anneth is the least excited about relocating. The family applies, is accepted, and even gets the one house of the five that they wanted. It has four bedrooms, but is also right next door to the local funeral home. This gives Lowen, who is still grieving the loss of his friend Abe, especially since he feels guilty about sending him to the store for candy, a bit of a hard time. In order to get money to repair the house, which is one of the requirements of getting it for a dollar, the father stays in the city to work, so Lowen misses him. Clem settles in, and even Anneth finds a group of people, but aside from Dylan, who helps out at the funeral home and used to live in Lowen's house, Lowen struggles to fit in. The mother's shop struggles, especially since the restaurant owner next door feels threatened and keeps sabotaging their efforts, offering lunch and take out boxes. Sami, whose mother wanted to open a pet boutique but was denied a loan, gets along well with Lowen, and the two are very invested in their parents businesses, helping Sami's mother set up and stock her resale shop. As the year progresses, some of the families do better than others, and it looks like Lowen's family just might make it. When Dylan's grandfather becomes ill and is in danger of losing his house, the "dollar kids" rally behind Dylan, which helps Lowen's family in an unexpected way.

Since this book is on the long side, I could have done without the plot line about Abe's death, but I realize that this is completely on trend and I'm the only one who doesn't like the portrayal of grieving in middle grade novels. Still, this is a fascinating portrait of small town life and should be popular with both readers who live in similar places and with those who are curious about them.
Good Points
This was a great look at a different type of life that will be new and informative for many readers. The Grovers are struggling financially, although they were doing okay in the city. The family bonding because of the move was interesting, and the reality of setting up a restaurant was fun to read. The reaction of the townspeople was also intriguing, and the story moved at a decent pace. The inclusion of comic strips (used by Lowen to deal with Abe's death) will appeal to readers who like graphic novels.

Since I have family in a small town in Iowa (under 600 people), and have witnessed its downward progression over the last thirty years, I know that this is absolutely realistic, even though it might seem odd to people with no experiences of small town life. One of my relatives even ran a resale shop for a while! Giving away houses for $1? Absolutely. In the town I know, people routinely give their houses to the town and the fire squad burns them to the ground for practice fighting fires. I was impressed that Millville had a dollar store, a grocery, and a restaurant, although I was a bit surprised that there was a library and the school was still operating with only eight children in each class.
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