Review: The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban

The Center of Everything, by Linda UrbanThe pitch: Ever since her grandma died, Ruby has felt like everything’s wrong. She’s hoping her birthday wish will set things right at her town’s founding day parade.

The review: Let me say up front that I loooove Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect. One of my favorite MG books ever. My kids usually like it a lot, too. So I had high hopes for this. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed aspects of it, it didn’t really work for me as a book for kids.

I dug Ruby’s natural curiosity and insatiable desire to figure things out for herself. Of course, her grandma, Gigi, appealed to me — she’s a bigshot in ten different town organizations, so basically I aspire to be her when I’m in my 70s. I found the small-town New Hampshire setting charming.

But all these things are also the problem with giving the book to kids. It appealed to me because of my interests as an adult. Kids mostly won’t care about the drive-by glimpses into the heads of the school librarians or thrill to Ruby and her new friend Nero’s Wikipedia research into tori. They almost certainly won’t appreciate adult jokes like the parade passing out “kale-flavored candies from the food co-op.”

Most of the book is Ruby’s third-person philosophizing (and sometimes second-person: many a chapter starts with the “If you were Ruby Pepperdine…” construction). It’s often spot-on, I think, about the interior life of a thoughtful, serious 12-year-old. The characterization is excellent. But in my experience, while my kids very much like using fiction to explore how other kids think and navigate relationships, that’s not enough to hold their interest; they need more plot.

The chief conflict here is a fight Ruby had with her two friends before the parade day, and the suspense is what that fight was about and what Ruby’s wish was. Both turn out to be fairly predictable and mundane, though; not worth all the flipping back and forth in the timeline to preserve that mystery. found following the nonlinear structure confusing at times; I know many of my students will.

It’s possible to write a quiet, sweet book about pre-teens’ exploration of big ideas that will be fun and engaging for actual pre-teens. Wendy Mass does it fairly consistently. This, sadly, felt like it was more effective as an adult comfort read — sealed by an epilogue from the perspective of adult Ruby. Of course, I could be wrong! If you know kids who loved it, please tell me; it’s certainly a well-written, wholesome read that would be a good addition to libraries if students like it more than I predict.

Read-alikes: Criss Cross or As Easy As Falling off the Face of the Earth, by Lynne Rae Perkins; Amalee, by Dar Williams

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2 Responses to Review: The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban

  1. Jen Robinson says:

    For what it’s worth, I loved A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True, but didn’t get past the first few chapter of this one. I think that the things you identified as risks to kid-appeal also made it not appealing to me. My inner child reader is still dominant, I guess ;-)

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