Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

ELEVEN by Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff offers a great tale about a young boy with a mysterious past, a reading disability, and a growing need to find out where he belongs. She does a good job of opening Sam’s world and exposing the reader to all the concerns the boy has.

I was hooked on the possibility that Sam had been kidnapped and suspicious of the family he’d fallen in with. I also have a son that struggled all through school with a reading disability and I saw the frustration he had with trying to understand the world when he lacked an important interface to be part of it.

Giff sets the readers up for the mystery that’s woven throughout the novel when Sam discovers a locked box in his grandfather’s attic. Sam works in the wood shop with his grandfather. Even though Sam can’t read, he’s got a natural affinity for wood and carpentry. The shop came alive for me in the scenes when he was there.

The possibility that he was kidnapped remained in my mind throughout the book until the issue was resolved. Even though I felt pretty certain how everything worked out, I didn’t know for sure what was going to happen till I turned those final pages. Giff keeps the suspense humming.

The relationship Sam has with Caroline is terrific. I liked her snarky character, and I felt for her because she was the girl who was always moving with her parents. I was that kid for a while, and it’s hard moving from school to school. The way she hooked up with Sam and became part of his world was very genuine and touching.

Sam’s love for his grandfather Mack is solid and well told, but that thread of suspicion about how he came to have Sam and where Sam’s parents were just wouldn’t go away. Giff works that paranoia well, but she heaps on Sam’s guilt about feeling distrusting of his grandfather as well. The writing is smooth and effortless, and I felt just as drawn into Sam’s identity crisis as he was.

Reluctant readers will identify with Sam in these pages. The frustrations and anger I remember from my own son are there. The inability to understand what makes him so different hurt. One of the best things about stories is when they speak the language of compassion and understanding, and this one does.

I recommend this book to struggling readers, kids who like suspense/mystery stories, teachers that love to read to their middle grade students, and to readers that want to take a break from fantasy worlds. Sam’s life is great reading.


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