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Forgiveness, self-reliance, overcoming tragedy, family strength, the working poor, and assimilating into a new community -- all these issues are handled deftly in Jennifer Richard Jacobson's latest novel. This is a great choice for upper-elementary, middle- or high schoolers. The characters are real and readers will relate to their personalities and feelings. I enjoyed this as well as other works by this author and hope you will too!
Thank you to @kidlitexchange, the author and the publisher for this advance copy of The Dollar Kids. All opinions are my own.
Eleven year old Lowen has a secret - a huge secret that at times feels like it is a “venomous snake quivering inside him, ready to spring at any moment”. It’s a secret he’s never shared with another living soul. It’s a secret about his 9 year old neighbor, Abe. It’s because of Lowen that his neighbor is dead.
Since he was three years old, Lowen has been drawing; He drew everything from vehicles to animals to people, until at the age of eight he discovered cartooning. And since that time, he spent every spare moment creating cartoons. Abe loved watching him. He often would tell Lowen what to draw or correct a panel he’d already created. One afternoon Lowen wanted a little peace to draw uninterrupted, so he sent Abe to the corner store for some Twizzlers. That’s Lowen’s secret. He’s never told anyone he’s the reason Abe was in the store (the store that was against his mom’s rules to visit alone) at the moment a teenager opened fire and killed four kids, including Abe.
Since the shooting, Lowen, stopped drawing, stopped talking much and kept feeling that snake inside of him. His family was grieving, too, for their young neighbor and friend. But then Lowen discovered an online ad about a small town selling homes for a dollar. It’s a town that has lost their main employer, a paper mill and therefore most of its residents. It’s a town that has 8 or ten kids in each grade level. It’s a sports loving town that now can barely scrape together enough kids to have a team. It’s a small rural town that can give a family a new start in life. And now it’s Lowen’s family’s new home, along with four other families.
This is a story about hope, grief, facing your fears, family and most of all community working together. It’s a story that addresses some tough issues such as gun violence and poverty in a realistic, but heartfelt way. It’s a story that helps the reader understand that talking about a problem with someone “safe” can lead to healing. And it’s a story that helps the reader understand that working together with family and community to creatively solve a problem can lead to solutions.
This book will be released August 7. It’s a great choice for readers in grade 4-7 who are looking for a heartfelt and realistic story.
I loved this book. However, my loving this book doesn’t mean my students will. All my recommending won’t make them love it unless they can connect to it in some way. The same thing is true for adults. This is one of those books I think everyone, young and old can connect to. A few years ago I had a student write in his journal, “Most teachers don’t understand how hard life can be. I go to bed every night wondering if a stray bullet will come through my house and kill one of us. I go to bed every night wondering if I will still have my friends when I wake up.”
That student like so many of my other students will find many things to connect with in this book. After Lowen’s friend is shot and killed Lowen goes through a period where he can’t seem to draw his comics anymore. He is going through both guilt and grief. When his parents learn of a lottery to buy a house for a dollar in an old mill town they enter and win. There are some things they must do though. They not only have to fix up the house but they have to start a business.
While Lowen’s dad stays in Flintlock to work, his mom starts a business called Cornish Eatery. Things still are not going smooth. Like a lot of small towns, not everyone is welcoming. Some people will do anything they can to keep others from being successful. Unless people of the town realize how much they need this new life their own livelihood will disappear. This story looks at how everyone has to change to survive. It looks at learning to move on through any situation. It is all about second chances. I wish I’d had this book back when I had this student. Maybe he would have found a way through this book to deal with what he had to deal with. I whole heartedly recommend this book.
The Dollar Kids is a middle grade story about friendship, grief, and forgiveness. Lowen is a 12-year-old boy mourning the loss of his younger friend. Abe was constantly around, offering advice or friendly criticism as Lowen worked on his comic strips to the sound of his friend's constant babbling in the background. When Abe is shot, Lowen feels responsible and, as he won't admit why he feels this way to others, he is stuck with his blame with no one to come alongside and shoulder it with him and speak truth to him.
The Grovers, in an effort to reset the whole family, apply to purchase a $1 home in a small town that has struggled to survive since the mill closed. The Grovers gladly leave their city behind to start over when they are chosen as one of four families. The agreement for the $1 homes hinges on enough repairs being made before the end of the year.
Lowen has turned his back on art, as it's too raw. But throughout the book we get little snippets of comic strips as he uses that medium to process his grief. The illustrations are lovingly done and fit the text well.
Some of the plot points seemed forced -- the family has a litany of reasons for why they can't accomplish house repairs and the mom's success (or lack of it) in her pasty shop seems hot and cold. However, I was touched at the close of the book, and I did find truth in Lowen's struggle with how much to engage in forming new relationships when he sees himself as a bad friend to have.
I am a creative person. As such, I dabble in new hobbies and well remember the struggle of my first knitting attempt, or how long it took me to throw clay successfully on a wheel or to spin something that looked legitimately like yarn, I recall how my brain knew intellectually how it was supposed to come together even as my hands failed at the execution. The trick is to stick with it and not give up. I resonated with Lowen's observation about the essence of creating:
"To become good at something, you had to be willing to live through the maddening time when you don't have the skills, when you don't come anywhere close to what you can picture in your head. You try, you struggle, your performance stinks. You fail. A lot."
I think this is a solid book, even as I admit that I never fully entered the world.
(I received a free digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and Candlewick Press in exchange for my honest opinion.)
Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2018
Lowen Grover is a comic book artist, but he hasn’t drawn much after his friend was murdered during a shooting at a convenience store. His parents, wondering if leaving the city would allow him to heal, applies to buy a foreclosed home for $1 in the tiny town of Millville. However, they soon wonder if the price is too good to be true.
The Dollar Kids has a soft, quiet opening as Lowen’s family applies for the house and then moves. However, the action soon ramps up as they settle into their new lives and meet their new neighbors. And what a cast of characters they are. The town librarian digs holes to bury her regrets. The school athletic coach is constantly recruiting Lowen just so his teams have enough players to officially play. The owner of the local breakfast restaurant radically alters her business to sabotage Lowen’s mother’s takeout place.
Maybe it’s because I’m a recent city transplant back to a rural area, but their reactions to Lowen and his family resonated with me. Their innate distance to new inhabitants seemed natural and even the restaurant sabotage was both frustrating and a realistic response.
At its core, this book is about struggle. Lowen struggles with his role in Abe’s death. The family struggles with finding their place in their new community. The community itself struggles to thrive. Author Jennifer Richard Jacobson doesn’t shy away from the struggles that stem from finances, marriage, regrets, friends, and death. Yet, she skillfully keeps her characters moving into trajectories that allow them to manage these problems.
This is a quiet read, which I think fills a necessary niche in middle grade literature, and the result is something very special.
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.
Millville is a dying town. The mill has closed, businesses have left, and the school is struggling to stay open. To help encourage new families to move to Millville, the city offers a select few homes for only one dollar. Families apply and those selected are granted a home by lottery. Lowen's family takes the plunge and applies for a house. His sister, Anneth, is not very keen on the idea but his parents try anyway. They end up being selected and decide to give it a go, knowing that a change may help Lowen move on after his friend Abe died.
The transition is not pain-free and the repairs needed to be done by a deadline are rather daunting. Given the low enrollment, sports is not optional but rather expected. So Lowen finds himself trying to learn soccer and basketball when he'd rather do other things (and not have to be compared to his athletic older brother). Not all the families find they can make a living in Millville. Lowen's family struggles to keep open a new restaurant while their dad holds down his previous job and only sees his family on weekends. As the deadline approaches and the repairs multiply, Lowen is wondering if they'll have to call it quits and admit defeat.
The Dollar Kids is a fantastic tale of a family pulling together to sacrifice and work hard to make a better life for themselves. They experience the challenges of being newcomers in a very tight-knit and not always welcoming community. I loved seeing how the characters develop through the story: older brother, Clem, learns some home skills to help with repairs; Anneth blossoms as she is encouraged to use her gifts, and Lowen, works through his grief while trying new things.
Kudos for a middle school book that is not laced with vulgarity (there is one very mild swear word). There are some sibling tensions but nothing out of the ordinary; the overall impression is of a family that sticks together through tough times. One of the Millville transplants is a same-sex couple but they play a very minor role in the story. If you were reading the book out loud, that portion could easily be edited. Or it could provide an opportunity to discuss with your kids some of the families they may encounter in life. I appreciated that it was not a significant part of the storyline.
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is a heartfelt and unique story. Following the traumatic death of his friend, Lowen Grover encourages his family to leave their urban life and apartment to live in small town Millville, where they are selling several homes for one dollar each in order to bring people into their dying town. The caveat being that the families have to do all necessary repairs on the home. The struggles the families face were realistic and reflected the viewpoint of both the townspeople and the newcomers. I loved the twist of Lowen’s mother being English and starting up the Cornish Eatery (selling Cornish pasties) in this small rural town. Reading the descriptions of the food made me hungry every time. It was also painfully realistic watching Lowen avoid new friendships while realizing he needed them. When he finally opens himself up to friendship, we are able to see so much more to his character. One of my favorite aspects of this book is that we get to know so many of the townspeople. As Lowen gradually unfolds, so does the town. I loved the ending - the empathy that Lowen and the other children show, the family relationships, the cooperative efforts, and the changes in so many of the characters. I love the sense of hope that the reader is left with at the end, after so much uncertainty and conflict throughout the story. And my review would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Lowen’s comics that are sprinkled throughout, depicting so much of his inner struggle and how he is processing what happened to his friend. I also loved the theme of discovering your own talents while being willing to try something new, whether that is sports, art, music, cooking, building, or fashion design. I look forward to sharing this book with my students and colleagues.
*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.*
The Dollar Kids starts off strong, with the first scene happening in comic-book format; the main character’s friend is shot during a trip to the corner store. It was a bit abrupt for me, and I was worried about how dark the book was going to be overall, but I shouldn’t have worried at all, because while this provides the backdrop for everything that follows, the story as a whole is genuinely heartwarming, focusing on family and the importance of helping others out.
The Grover family decides to buy a house in a small town for just $1 in exchange for them fixing up the house and contributing to helping the town stay afloat, by having their kids participate in school sports and by boosting the local economy. In part, they do it to help Lowen heal from his best friend’s death, but also to get a new start for themselves. They are joined by a few other families who also buy dollar-houses for various reasons.
I loved all the characters in this; I appreciated that Jacobson includes a diverse cast of characters who come from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. I especially appreciated how finances are dealt with in this story; most of the characters are going through tough times and Jacobson does a good job in portraying the delicate situations that surrounds competing businesses, or how someone can be embarrassed to need help. All of this rang true to me, and I just loved how “real-life” this story seemed. It’s about real issues and is incredibly well constructed.
One of my favorite parts about this novel is that Lowen likes drawing comics; however, after his friend Abe dies, he stops drawing for a while. Except for the beginning scene, we don’t see comics in the first part of the book. However, as Lowen starts to process his trauma and starts to heal from what happened to his friend, we see more of his comics throughout the novel; it’s a brilliant visual way to show Lowen’s growth and healing process and I found it very effective. The illustrations are absolutely wonderful and add so much to the story.
There are so many great lessons packed into this story, and it all feels completely organic and just well done. I never once felt like anything was forced just to teach a lesson, which is what makes this book great. It’s genuine and heartwarming and feels so real. I would highly recommend this for any lovers of middle grade and also think it would be an amazing classroom library addition.
I liked the idea of incorporating dollar homes and crowd funding into a family story! Yeah, you, Jennifer Jacobson! The whole idea of helping a family like that just won me over! I enjoyed the story itself, too. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a friend to a shooting, so sad; I work with kids who have lost family and friends that way. Even tho' I can't really relate to getting a $1.00 home, every time I've moved into a new area, I've encountered people who feel I have some how driven out previous owners or are now as worthy as the previous owners of living in the new to me home. People are odd like that, I guess. ultimately they come around, but, just weird. It must be hard being the old timers in a particular place and watching it change. Just as hard as it is for the new comers. Well, the book offers lots of insight into Lowen and his family's experiences and I am sure many children will relate to the story. Good read! I received a Kindle ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.