Scholastic Press, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0545667062, August 2014
Poppy’s life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, “back to normal” slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual “witness protection program,” wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan’s mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it’s still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner’s life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?
Winget takes on a couple of heavy topics with humor and grace. Many kids live with a grandparent or grandparents; in Poppy’s case, she has no one else. Without her grandmother, she has nowhere to go but a state-run group home. When she witnesses a robbery and tells the criminal her name, her status goes from alone to potentially hunted. While she winds up with the good fortune of moving in with a police detective’s kind mother, Poppy knows the situation is only temporary. She might feel like she fits in, but as soon as police apprehend the suspect, she’s going straight back to the group home unless her grandmother gets better. Poppy’s determined that Grandma Beth will improve and comes up with a few schemes to that end, but she learns that she has no control over Mother Nature. Eventually, she faces a difficult choice: If helping the police with their investigation will lead to catching the robber faster, it will also put her back in state care faster…unless she doesn’t help after all…
Poppy is a sweet, determined, impulsive girl, very spirited but also believable. Her determination to save Gunner reflects a basic truth, that when our lives are the most out-of-control, we often want to save someone else to prove we still have power. Readers are going to fall in love with Poppy and cheer her on, beginning to end.
Recommend to: Middle graders and young teens who prefer contemporary fiction
To buy or not to buy: Buy.