Invest in a booklight! The Parker Inheritance
A real-life one act play from this past weekend:
[Late at night. I am in bed, reading with a tiny book light so as not to disturb my husband, who is wisely sleeping. He rolls over]
Husband: The book is that good?
Me: Hmmmm? (distracted “I’m reading mumble”- he is well acquainted)
Husband: The book. It’s really good?
Me: So good! If I had this book when I was 10 or 11, I would have been up past midnight reading it!
Husband: Umm, buddy? It’s past midnight. It’s 12:45
Me: Oh. So it is. Maybe just to the end of this chapter
[Husband chuckles. End of play]
It is hard to find a book that one can recommend to both bookish, “I love reading” kids that will enthrall them, and kids that “are just not that into reading” that will grab them and turn them into readers. Varian Johnson has hit the sweet spot with The Parker Inheirtance. This book is fantastic. Set both in present day and the 1950s, the book glides back and forth in time, untangling a complex mystery that goes back generations.
The main character, Candice, is a 12-year-old girl who has to move from Atlanta with her mother for the summer. Her parents have divorced and their home is undergoing renovations to get ready for sale, so they move into her late grandmother’s place in Lambert, South Carolina. Candice misses her friends and her home, is reeling from her parents’ separation, and then discovers that her grandmother, who used to be the city manager, left the town in scandal and disgrace chasing buried treasure.
Candice finds a mysterious letter in the attic that spurs her to take up the search where her grandmother left off. She forges a friendship with Brandon, a quiet boy across the street who loves reading and puzzles as much as she does. Together, they begin to piece together the clues of the letter, and in doing so, understand the stained history of the town.
It is hard to be young and black in Lambert, South Carolina in 2018, and it was even harder in 1957. As the pair decipher the mystery, they are confronted with racism, past and present. The author does not shy away from hard topics in this book. There is discussion of race, bullying, homophobia, and the history of limited opportunities for women, especially women of color. While the topics are heavy, they are parceled out as part of a suspenseful, gorgeously woven plot, making them relatable. The reader feels so close to these characters, they can process these issues in their own time, through the lens of the story. This book is able to teach a great deal without feeling like that is the book’s intention. It is masterful. Plus, it’s exciting! A mystery! Buried treasure! Millions of dollars to the person who can crack the code! Who wouldn’t want to read this?!?
This book was so compelling, I read most of it in one (very late) night and then went back to read it all again. Genius subtle greyscale coding on the pages helps young readers keep track of where they are in the timeline as the narrator and year changes. The last two pages are practically cinematic. And the puzzles!! I’ve said too much. I cannot recommend it enough, to you and all the young readers in your life. Give it as a gift this holiday season. I would include a book light.
- Written by Varian Johnson
- Jacket Illustration by Tristan Yuvienco
- Published by Arthur A Levine, a Scholastic imprint, April 2018
- 352 pages, recommended age 9 and up