Age Range
Release Date
October 18, 2022
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Nothing’s been the same since Lucas’s older brother died. After the accident, Lucas’s mom disappeared without any warning, and his dad is struggling to cope. Lucas is pretty much alone—except for the other kids he meets at his middle school’s aftercare program.

There’s Cat, the star athlete; Robbie, the goofball; Anna, the popular girl; and Finn, the mysterious new kid. Between games of Sardines, a reverse hide-and-seek, the kids realize that each group member has a secret wish. If they work together, the group might be able to help make each person’s dream come true. But for that to happen, Lucas will have to find the strength to trust his new friends with his family’s secrets.

Editor review

1 review
Unlikely friends stick together
Overall rating
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What worked:
The author takes great efforts to cast Lucas as a sympathetic character. He starts his first day of middle school hoping to avoid the awkwardness of standing alone among all the kids waiting to enter. His mother left him several weeks earlier and won’t return any phone calls. His college-age, older brother Charlie, a former model student at the school, died the year before. Finally, Lucas is forced to attend middle-school care after, which causes embarrassment for kids at this age. Lucas lives in a trailer park with his father and they have a conflicted relationship. The father has anger issues and hasn’t developed a close connection with his son. He struggles to perform the role of a single parent and Lucas isn’t totally receptive to his efforts. Lucas is angry and just wants his mother back.
While Lucas is the main character, Finn is the most intriguing. He casts an air of confidence and knowledge but little is known about his life outside of school. He is part of the afterschool group and comes up with the idea of playing Sardines, a game similar to hide and seek. The game itself isn’t overly significant except that it’s the stimulus needed to help five after-school kids develop a bond. Finn comes up with another idea for each of the kids to collect acorn caps in their own jars. When full, each person will reveal a secret wish that the others will help come true. These wishes become mini-subplots that are disclosed and fulfilled throughout the book. One boy wishes he could stop being the target of bullying and a girl wishes for shorter hair, something her mother forbids. It’s interesting that Finn comes up with the idea for wish jars but he’s the one character who doesn’t create his own.
The underlying problems running through the whole story are Lucas’s internal conflicts in dealing with his brother’s death and his mother’s absence. There are flashbacks and memories where he relives experiences with both of them, sometimes happy and sometimes sad. Lucas doesn’t know where his mother went and he doesn’t understand why she hasn’t tried to contact him. Doesn’t she want him? Why won’t his father share any information about her? Even though Charlie’s gone, Lucas still feels he can’t live up to his brother’s persona as the perfect son and student. Everybody loved Charlie but Lucas struggles to make friends. These conflicts torment Lucas until he gets some resolution in the end.
What didn’t work as well:
The subplots aren’t very unique as the first three kids’ problems are fairly common issues. The character relationships carry the story until they address Lucas’s wish and Finn’s troubles are uncovered. The last quarter of the book is an emotional rollercoaster with a mostly happy ending.
The Final Verdict:
The first half of the plot isn’t a page-turner but the multiple problems make the story relatable and interesting. The characters encounter deep feelings and struggles but they’re nothing good friends can’t overcome. I recommend you give this book a shot!
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