Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 388
Navigating family issues
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What worked:
The author makes great efforts to express how much Hope detests the Winterton family. The opening pages reveal that Hope and her brother Gordon have learned that their father was from the wealthy Wintertons but he left them and their mother without any financial support. They currently live in a motel room and they’re also behind in paying their rent. Consequently, Hope focuses her anger on the entire Winterton clan and she’s unwilling to compromise and give any of them a chance to change her mind. The author constantly describes her unwavering animosity and any positive behaviors exhibited by any of the Wintertons are met with her suspicions. Another intriguing twist to the plot is that Hope and Gordon’s mom doesn’t know her kids are aware of their connection to the Wintertons and the Wintertons seem to have no idea of the connection either.
There are many books written where someone’s died and left a mystery behind for the survivors. This book adds an innovative angle by using a life-changing spelling bee as the backdrop. There’s actually more focus on the spelling bee and Winterton family drama than the mystery in the first third of the book. The deceased grandmother leaves all of the family members starting clues to locate a valuable manuscript hidden somewhere in the mansion. Additional cryptic messages must be found but some of them may be misleading red herrings. Words often have multiple meanings in the clues so readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzles too. Gordon and Hope consider teaming up with another family but they have drastically different thoughts about the possibility. Guess who thinks it’s a bad idea?
The Winterton family dysfunction is a highlight of the plot. While Hope and Gordon’s father was a Winkerton, no one in the family knows about their mother. A classmate of Hope named Jennifer is a Winkerton but Hope won’t let herself become friends due to the family name. Jennifer’s father is a snobby pain in the butt who doesn’t get along with anyone. One family was accused of cheating during the spelling bee five years earlier and ill feelings haven’t totally gone away. Hope is surprised to discover a couple of the families are having money issues due to differing circumstances which shows people often have troubles no one else can see. Other secrets are marinating behind the scenes and they’re eventually revealed in the story’s resolution.
What didn’t work as well:
There are a lot of characters once the setting moves to the Winterton estate. Parents and kids are required to participate in the spelling bee so it can be challenging to remember names and family relationships with breaks between reading sessions. The issue lessens as the plot moves on.
The final verdict:
The spelling bee may not excite some readers but the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Winkertons make this an engaging story. The presence of Hope’s family helps to initiate the critical transformation in character dynamics and brings everything to a mostly happy conclusion. Overall, the book is very entertaining and I recommend you give it a shot.
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