Can we discuss how awful that cover is? I don’t know how you’d convince a kid to read a book with that cover. Any kid I know would either say “ew” and put it back, or say nothing and sort of sneak it back onto the shelf the minute you weren’t looking. Luckily, the one I’ve run into in person is much more appealing, with snapshots and a passport – check it out. Now that we’ve resolved that issue…
Dinnie’s family has always moved around a lot. Her father looks for new opportunities. Her mother packs them up. But as she’s gotten older, things have gotten tougher. Her older brother Crick is in jail, and her sister Stella disappears for a weekend at age 16 and returns home married to a Marine. When Stella has a baby, Dinnie gets sent away, to live with her aunt and uncle. At a boarding school. In Switzerland. While many 13 year olds may harbor secret fantasies about running away to a boarding school in Switzerland, the reality is pretty hard for Dinnie. One of my favorite parts is when she first arrives. She tries to make a sign for her window saying kidnapped but she needs to look up how to say it in Italian. In her efforts to get it right she ends up displaying a sign commanding people to take her by force and another one advertising help yourself.
As the students get to know each other, there are personality and culture clashes. One character is constantly putting down anyone and anything that is not American. Bloomability does a great job of celebrating life and our differences, as well as showing how different people compensate for and cope with the struggles in their own lives. And despite all these deeper themes, it’s still something many kids would actually enjoy reading. I felt particular affection for Keisuke and how his misuse or misspeaking of English resulted in words his classmates preferred.
The content isn’t too racy, and Dinnie is 13. I think that this would be okay for some middle grades advanced readers, but has enough going on that it will still be of interest to younger (14, 15) year old teens. There are many foreign phrases sprinkled throughout, some with context or definitions to help you understand, and some left untranslated so that you feel like an outsider the way Dinnie does.
Great for: Smart kids who wish themselves a world away. Fabulous teachers, amazing friends from different background, learning to speak Italian, and field trips to go skiing? There are lots of kids out there who would gladly trade their own high school experience for some time in the Alps. Many will end up feeling grateful for what they do have. That’s the beauty of this book.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Dinnie’s older sister Stella sees lots of boys before she marries the Marine and has a baby at 16. Dinnie and her friends talk about having crushes and who they like. The boarding school’s owner wears low-cut dresses and fishes her lipstick out of the front of her dress. Several students like each other. There is discussion of how their parents want them to only like people from the same background or how in some cultures the parents wouldn’t approve of them being friends with someone of a different gender. A girl, Belen, is 13 but looks 18 in a certain dress. There is a hug between two opposite sex characters, a kiss on the cheek between a boy and a girl and a kiss on the lips between a boy and a girl. There is one mention of a teacher having an affair.
Profanity – “crud,” “stupid” used several times, “Lord have mercy”
Death, Violence and Gore – There are a fair amount of light-hearted threats. From I’m going to kill her, or I want to kill her to Mari saying she wants to chop Lila up into hamburger and put her in a taco and a boy telling Dinnie he’ll chop off her hand if she takes the last taco. Crick gets into some bad things like throwing rocks, burning down a barn and stealing a car. There are some broken bones and stitches mentioned in relation to skiing accidents.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Crick smokes a joint. Dinnie has been to a school where it was cool to drink, smoke and swear. When a teacher assigns strange homework a kids asks if he’s drunk or something. It is mentioned that a teacher showed up drunk at the headmaster’s house. The boarding school suspends you for drinking or smoking and expels you for and drug use or possession of drug paraphernalia. Four students are suspended and one expelled. This is shared with us to show the culture of the school.
Frightening or Intense Things – Dinnie has lots of anxieties. She worries about the plane crashing, being near a military practice area in Switzerland, the possibility of an avalanche. Two students are trapped in an avalanche. A student is missing for a short period of time. There’s a whole chapter where the students of the school get hyper aware of world issues and some are deeply affected by all the horrible things happening in the world and how they feel powerless against them. Included on this list are: ozone depletion, the extinction of species, depleted rain forests, war, poverty, AIDS, famine, slaughter, refugees, being bombed, World War II, child abuse, watching your parent be killed, murder and torture. None of these are gone into in depth, but they are mentioned. Dinne’s aunt sends her a card saying she hopes there are no hijackers on Dinnie’s plane (this book is pre 9/11). Once when Dinnie was a child, her family left her behind, forgot her. Dinnie also sometimes has disturbing dreams like a baby rolling down a hill or what body part she’d give to save Crick.