Earlier this month, I had the opportunity of interviewing bestselling author, Elizabeth Atkinson. (Check it out here.) After our interview, she even sent me a copy of her newest middle-grade novel, The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. I am delighted to share my thoughts about this great winter read with you!
The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball tells the humorous, relevant, and heartwarming story of two best friends, Ruby La Rue and Eleanor Bandaranaike as they try to reach their dreams in the small ski town of Paris, New Hampshire. Ruby longs to mingle with the “Outers” – the wealthy out- of-town kids who spend their afternoons on the ski slopes, catch the attention of Paris Middle School’s very own hearththrob JB Knox, and attend the most extravagant event of the year, the Sugar Mountain Snowball. Eleanor, on the other hand, dreams of becoming a fashion designer and creating a haute couture line that can be worn by the Outers. But to do so, she must save enough money to purchase the Pluckarama 1080 Sew-Good & Embroidery Machine.
As Eleanor and Ruby wonder how exactly they can reach these dreams, they come across a psychic named Madame Magnifique. She predicts that each of their deepest dreams will come true within four months. Her words give the girls the confidence to go out and achieve each of their goals. While digging through Ruby’s stepmothers yarn and craft supplies, they come up with the idea of starting their own business called E & R Dream Designs. Eleanor uses her creative, artistic talent to knit mittens and scarves, craft jewelry, design cellphone cases, and more. Ruby goes to various stores in the village to sell their products. The girls decide to split the profits equally among themselves.
While their creations are selling and their business is quickly becoming a success, the two sixth grade girls begin to face new challenges. It becomes more difficult for Eleanor to keep E&R Dream Designs a secret from her strict Sri Lakan parents, who would certainly not approve of this new business, because it might interfere with her special classes, cello lessons and other “braniac activities,” as Ruby likes to call them. And since Ruby’s stepmom and father are always working, she must still take care of her twin brothers while working on their business. And as much time and effort they put into their dreams, not everything always goes exactly as planned. – After saving up all of her hard earned money to take a private skiing lesson, Ruby discovers that skiing is not as easy as it looks. But despite each snow ball that is thrown in their direction, the girls are able to maintain their friendship and become more strong and responsible individuals than ever before.
The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball tackles important topics such as cultural differences, the desire to fit in with a particular social group, healthy eating habits and lifestyles -each told by in the irrepressible, eager voice of Ruby La Rue. From the second she began to tell their story, I was hooked. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters, applaud their bravery, and hope that their efforts resulted in success and happiness for the both of them. The hopefulness that is stored in the hearts of Ruby and Eleanor is both admirable and contagious.
As Eleanor and Ruby work to reach their dreams, they begin to learn new things – about themselves and one another. After Ruby is invited to Eleanor’s home for dinner, she learns that Eleanor’s family- who has emigrated from Sri Lanka- has a different way of doing things. They share different beliefs, values, and ways of life. While many things may be different between the two girls, they realize that certain things are exactly the same. “Finding happiness is the same for everyone – it can only come from the heart.” By the end of the story, the girls have learned quite a few valuable life lessons, and this is one of them.
Crafting a heartwarming tale with relevance and substance, Elizabeth Atkinson’s novel is pure and true. It embraces the idea of believing in yourself, taking chances, and appreciating the people that surround you. While this book is perfect for tween readers, it holds a strong message that pertains to any reader, no matter what your age. So cue the mug of hot cocoa, the warm fire place, your favorite comfy chair, and get to it! Pick up a copy of The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball at your local bookstore or on Amazon.
There is a lot of hype surrounding New Hampshire debut novelist, Pratima Cranse and her new book, All the Major Constellations. Publishers Weekly wrote “Cranse’s compassionate debut astutely conveys the joys, heartaches, and angst of coming-of-age”. Like many other young adult fiction books, the story explores the themes of self-discovery and friendship. So what exactly makes this book any different than other books in its genre?
Perhaps it is the point of view that seventeen- year-old Andrew has to offer. At such a young age, he is experiencing a lot of things all at once. For starters, he no longer has the companionship of his two best friends, Sara and Marcia to rely on. After a terrible car accident leaves Sara in a coma, Marcia spends her days by Sara’s bed side as her proxy. As their senior year of high school has finished and college is approaching, all Andrew really wanted was a fresh start to his life. But now he feels more alone and lost than ever. To make things worse, his antagonizing jock brother, Brian has come home for the summer and is ready to make Andrew’s life a living hell.
With no one to turn to, Andrew’s mind is consumed with obsessive thoughts of Laura, a beautiful Christian girl who reaches out to him and offers him guidance and support. Andrew realizes that her sudden interest in him is most likely sparked by his own grief and vulnerability, and that her only motive is to convert him to her faith. Despite his own suspicions about Laura’s true motivations, Andrew still wants her more than anything else. After Andrew is introduced to Laura’s youth group, he is immediately intrigued by their beliefs and faith. It gives him a restored sense of hope and makes him want to explore his own spirituality, something that until as of late, had never really crossed his mind.
“One part of him wanted to surrender to this feeling of endless light, a feeling that came from within. Another part of him floated above and watched himself on the mountaintop. There’s Andrew, Andrew thought. That’s me down there.” As Andrew tries his hardest to embrace his faith, he is still confused about what he believes and struggles to wrap his head around it all. He finds himself increasingly frustrated about Laura and his unspoken but obvious feelings towards her. All the while, he is stricken with persistent guilt and resentment towards Sarah’s accident.
But Andrew is not the only one with personal struggles. Even a group of devoted fundamentalist Christians have secrets and stories of their own; ones that they are afraid to speak of. John, for example, is ashamed of his own sexuality because his faith condemns it. All the Major Constellations so deeply resonates with its readers, reflecting that perhaps the greatest war we must fight is the one that lies within ourselves. Accepting ourselves and who we are could very well be life’s greatest challenge and longest journey.
Sometimes humorous but always honest, All the Major Constellations allows readers to examine themselves and come to terms with their own struggles and insecurities, accepting them for all that they are worth. Pratima Cranse’s novel may be a quick read, but it is one that will linger in your mind long after it is finished.