Title: Secrets of the Cicada Summer
Author: Andrea Beaty
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Themes: Overcoming Loss
Age Range: 3rd-5th Grade
Lily is invisible-not because people can't see her. Anyone who was looking would see her. But no one looks her way, not anymore. After the death of her brother, Pete, Lily retreats into silence, and over time people stop paying attention to the girl who never speaks. And that is just fine with her. Lily has a secret, one that she is sure will make her father stop loving her if he finds out. No one sees through her silence, until Tinny comes to town.
Tinny, 12 years old like Lily,is a rough customer. As soon as she shows up in the small town of Olena, IL to stay with her Aunt Fern, bad things start happening. Candy starts disappearing from Aunt Fern's store, and then money. Tinny blames it on Lily, who can't defend herself without admitting she could talk all along. And then, a mean looking man shows up looking for Tinny. Lily has to uncover the mystery and save Tinny-but it will mean confronting not just the mean looking man, but her own grief and guilt.
Cicada Summer is a sweet story about a little girl dealing with some pretty serious issues. Her mother died when she was too young to remember her, and her brother died in a tragic accident when he was 12 and she was 10. Despite the loving care of her father and kindly Fern, she has so much guilt over her part in her brother's death that she tries her best to disappear-staying silent, sidling around town just out of everyone's vision. But this makes it easier for her to learn things that grown-ups might not want a child to hear, which in turn helps her become a real life detective, like her idol Nancy Drew.
The story goes back and forth between present day and the time period right before and after Pete's death. Beaty uses the flashbacks to develop Pete's character, so that the emotional impact is heightened when the truth of what happened to him is finally revealed. By then the reader has also come to care about not just Lily, but her father and Fern and even that rough ol' Tinny. The narrative structure makes a good model for early writers. They can practice writing their own story that includes both flashback and present day.
The one criticism I have is that the resolution of the mystery happens very quickly, in just a few pages. What was meant to be a suspenseful scene with the mean looking man cornering the two girls ended up feeling a little bit rushed to me, lacking in detail. Perhaps that was to keep it from being too scary for the intended audience, and it may be my reading it as an adult that makes it seem that way, but it did feel like a whole lot of build-up for a pretty slim ending. But I think this book could be used as a read aloud, in guided reading, or as part of a classroom library.
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