Caroline Hickey’s Cassie Was Here arrived all on its lonesome on my doorstep only last week – one of the final Cybils Middle Grade Nominations to come to live with me. In spite of feeling a tad bug-eyed and fatigued from non-stop Cybils reading, I picked it up like a trooper and got started.
What a lovely, refreshingly simple story this is. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate the fact that this book is not trying to be all action and angst and drama. It is quiet and true and worth reading in every way. Bree is eleven – a young eleven. After a recent move, she finds comfort and familiarity in her old friend, Joey – her imaginary friend. Needless to say, Mom and Dad are less than thrilled that Joey is back on the scene, and when their gentle encouragement that Bree make some “real friends” doesn’t do the trick, they eventually tell Bree that she isn’t allowed to play with Joey any more. Bree’s older brother Reid can’t wait to see the last of Joey either, as she was involved in an accident that left him with a broken arm, and a summer without basketball camp. Then Cassie, (a new neighbour who is everything Bree is not – mature, confident and pretty), arrives to spend the summer with her grandmother, and she immediately starts to shake things up in Bree’s family.
At its heart this is a story about not wanting change to happen, but being ready for change without really knowing it. It’s about learning that change isn’t about making yourself into someone you’re not. It means stumbling into new territory, making good choices and bad, and learning to let go of things that you care about in order to open yourself to new experiences and people. Caroline Hickey writes her characters very neatly and sensitively. Bree comes across as so innocent and young next to Cassie. I thought that Caroline also created a complex, and completely believable character in Cassie. I liked the way her true depth was revealed as the story moved along.
This is the ideal book for a thoughtful or quirky kid who may not feel quite ready to leap into the world of middle school drama, and who doesn’t want things to be different. It’s not action packed. It’s not loaded with tension. It is gentle, and it unfolds as naturally as ordinary life. It’s the kind of story that sneaks up on you, and when I finished it, I wanted to be able to pass it on to the right child. It’s a keeper.
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