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Book Review: When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullen (3/5)

7 Nov

McMullen taught creative writing at my university and I never took a class outside my major to learn from her. I figured that reading her book now might teach me something. That makes sense, right?

Cover image via Goodreads

When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullen

Summary from Goodreads:

Life as an O’Donnell is all twelve-year-old Addy knows, and life as an O’Donnell means trouble.
Tucked away in a gray patch of woods called No-Bob, the O’Donnell clan has nothing but a bad reputation. So when Addy’s mama abandons her on the afternoon of Mr. Frank Russell’s wedding celebration, nobody is very surprised. A reluctant Mr. Frank and his new wife take Addy in, and Addy does everything she can to prove that at least one O’Donnell has promise. But one day, Addy witnesses a terrible event that brings her old world crashing into the new.
As she finds herself being pulled back into No-Bob and the grips of her O’Donnell kin, Addy is faced with the biggest decision of her life. Can she somehow find the courage to do what’s right, even if it means betraying one of her own?

I haven’t read a middle-grade book in a while and it took me a little bit to get used to the writing in this category. It’s simplified from what you’d find in YA and there’s nothing wrong with that, just something to adjust to. I heard that this was the second book in a series and I think I may have missed out on some exposition because I read it first. I was a bit confused at the beginning about No-Bob and why the O’Donnell’s were so dispised. I was also a little confused about the relationships between the kids because they seemed to be fighting in one scene and friends in the next, but that’s very true of childhood in general so I shouldn’t have been so off-put. I thought the story touched on a lot of issues at the time and did it well. Overall, I didn’t have many complaints and it was a nice book to read during lunches because it moved quickly and was easy to jump in and out of.

There wasn’t a whole lot of character development in this one. Most of the characters were very one-sided with the exception of Addy. I didn’t have a problem with this because of the age target. Addy is a good character to show development. She becomes very strong over the course of the book and would be a good role model for girls reading this. She’s exposed to a lot of different opinions and types of people and learns for herself who is admirable and who isn’t. I thought this was well done over the course of the book and it got the slow burn it deserved.

Frank was a great character. He seemed a bit naive but he was a good husband and surrogate father. He was industrious and smart and showed Addy a lot of love she’d never had from a man before. She needed a father when she was taken in and there’s not a better man who could have done it.

Addy had to recognize racism and decide how she felt about it. I think that’s relatable for a lot of children growing up. I had a somewhat diverse community that I grew up in, but I was still part of a white majority. I remember learning about different races and recognizing that in my peers. Addy had a more abrupt lesson than I did but it’s a lesson everyone has to go through when growing up.

Margaret McMullen
Image via the University of Evansville

I liked the beginning of the book best; when Addy was learning from Frank about how to be more civilized. It was very sweet and the way she was acted around her new father made her grow on me. It made her a very likable character despite being very rough around the edges.

The time she spent living in the woods didn’t work for me. It felt skipped over and unimportant to the overall plot. I think there was a lot of good material in there and the book was strong enough without it.

Addy has to face a harsh decision between protecting her father and doing what’s right. She has been told how important blood and family are, but she doesn’t see that she’s being respected in the same way she’s being asked to respect others. It’s a tough call for her to make and I like that McMullen recognizes the struggle she has to make that decision. While blood is thicker than water, it’s still a liquid and sometimes needs to be washed away.

Writer’s Takeaway: Characters have to deal with tough issues. I’m glad I read this when I did because I’m writing about a character dealing with racism in my latest project. It’s interesting to see how McMullen handled it and think about what parts of that I’d like to emulate and which I want to be different from.

Overall, a solid book, but not a style I’m a huge fan of. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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