Small publishers are easy to overlook; they don’t have the marketing resources to help their books come out in front of readers. Today I’m highlighting a book from one of those small but powerful publishers, Fitzroy Books.
“Amy McDougall, Master Matchmaker,” by Gary Pedler, features a 13-year-old self-described “Blatina” narrator. At first I was skeptical, because the author, according to his photo, is a bald old white man.
But do you know that saying about not judging a book by its cover? Do not judge it on the photo of its author either. I was immediately won over by the character’s voice and worldview.
In the opening scene, Amy attends an art show with her photographer father – and she notices that people look at each other more than art. Her father explains about the people watching.
Amy can understand why people might be looking at her.
“They were giving me that look that said, ‘What is that Blatina chick doing with a white dude with blue eyes over twice his age?’ I had the same look for years every time I went out with daddy. Sometimes I wanted to wear a t-shirt that simply explained: MY NAME IS AMY. I AM ADOPTED. IT IS TRAVIS WHO ADOPTED ME AND WHO ARE YOU? ”
In this very first scene, we get a good idea of Amy, her father, and their exceptional relationship.
Later in the story, Amy describes the school cafeteria line-up and how she and her best friend Grace got stuck between “a guy behind us who was in a rush and kept going. push myself with her tray, and a girl in front who wasn’t and I continued chatting with friends instead of going forward.
I had this moment of “Yes!” I was here. I loved that Pedler took the time to put us in the cafeteria line.
Little by little, we learn (no info for Pedler!) That Amy’s biological mother was Guatemalan and that her biological father was African-American. She lives in San Francisco with her adoptive father, a husky, handsome, generally undecided gay white man with blue eyes. She loves art, but not school, and she hates both the cafeteria and gym classes.
Her best friend, Grace, started out as an enemy in third grade because Amy admired, then stole, her checkered cap.
In addition to his relationship, especially with his father and Grace, there are other elements that I particularly appreciated.
First, the verbal interaction between Amy and Grace. I wish I could give a quick example, but you’ll just have to read the book. There’s a hilarious passage where they try to find a boyfriend for Amy’s dad and end up talking about comparisons. Soon after, Amy decides that she needs to know what kind of person her father is looking for. After interviewing her father (unbeknownst to her), she presents it as a recipe, comprising “1 cup of charm”, “a packet of sense of humor” and a “pinch of common sense”. Adorable.
Amy succeeds, in her eyes, in matching her father with her Spanish teacher, Enrique Diaz. But there were some unintended consequences that put Amy in the trash. Grace tells Amy to stop complaining, at which point there is an entire chapter made up of articles in the “Daily Complainer”, and the comments section includes some irritable responses from Grace. They’re hilarious, and it was a wonderfully inventive way to convey all of Amy’s gripes without just one scene after another where she was complaining about Enrique to Grace.
We can also see the interior of a therapist’s office and what is going on during a counseling session. Due to Amy’s mother’s neglect and being adopted, her advice is needed by the adoption agency.
These scenes, where Amy uses therapist Sophia as a sounding board for her different patterns, are a wonderful way to demystify therapy for young readers.
Amy has a strong will – Grace calls her “bossy pants”. She doesn’t like school and doesn’t try very hard, but her plans and ideas make her a character readers will appreciate. really linked with.
This book also reminded me why I love mid-level stories. While Amy has a difficult story, abandoned by her mother and bouncing back and forth between foster homes, she is happy, well-adjusted, and sorting through life just like her classmates and other characters. There’s the absence of angst that one might find in a YA book, and I love that Amy is so much more than her origin story.
So I invite you to order “Amy McDougall, Master Matchmaker” from Fitzroy Books (fitzroybooks.com), and while you’re at it, you can find “Reeni’s Turn”, which I reviewed a few months ago., and many other great books for young readers.
Deb Aronson is an Urbana-based author whose non-fiction book about the famous racehorse Rachel Alexandra is “A Story of Four Legged Girls.”