The first thing to catch my eye about Corey Ann Haydu’s Eventown was the phrase “twin sister” on the inside flap. Being a twin myself, I love reading twin stories. It’s so interesting to me to see what authors imagine twin life to be like, whether it’s close to my own experience or not. I’m not sure if Haydu is a twin herself, but wow, I was immediately blown away by how she nails the push-pull bond between Elodee and Naomi Lively, our main characters in Eventown. The book opens partway into their fifth-grade year; a fraught time for any kid, but especially two close sisters who are just beginning to figure out who they are as individuals, and whose family seems to be reeling from an undisclosed trauma. It’s clear from the first chapter that the Lively family has suffered a loss of some sort, but their method of dealing with it seems to be to not talk about it at all, so the reader is left in the dark as well. It’s agreed that they need a fresh start—so, why not pack up their old house in boring old Juniper and move to Eventown, the community whose founder, Jasper Plimmswood, designed it purposefully for those who wanted to start over?
Eventown seems to be a utopia right from the start. (Here is where, as a reader, shades of Lois Lowry’s The Giver started to come to mind.) Elodee and Naomi are amazed at the perfect weather, the nicely manicured gardens (all filled with roses) and the recipe box left as a welcome gift for Elodee (a burgeoning experimental cook) that is filled with the most carefully constructed, delicious recipes ever. Their mom is excited for her new job in the Eventown tourism center, and their dad looks forward to trying out his master gardening techniques on the famous roses. Naomi can’t wait to join the gymnastics team, and at her first meet, doesn’t make a single mistake. Does it matter that she performs the exact same routine as the other gymnasts, all executed flawlessly? Not to Naomi. Elodee, however, misses the excitement, that shiver of nerves when watching her sister compete. She misses experimenting in the kitchen, working with her failures to tweak and test recipes. She misses a library with actual books in it. She knows that Eventown is missing something. But it’s not until Elodee’s visit to the Welcoming Center—a time when she is asked to enter the Storytelling Room and share the story of her most scared moment, most embarrassed moment, most heartbreaking moment, loneliest moment, angriest moment, and most joyful moment—is interrupted that things begin to fall apart. Elodee is holding on to those moments, even the heartbreaking and lonely ones, and she doesn’t want to let go.
I’m a sucker for middle-grade stories that can be described as “emotionally complex,” and boy, does this one have all the emotions. It doesn’t shy away from anger, depression, or death. I won’t spoil the ending here, but I will tell you I used more than one tissue to mop up my weepy eyes as I read. Sad tears, of course, but grateful tears too. This one is probably best for the older end of our Story Warren readers, but I found it to be an incredibly rewarding read, prompting lots of questions in my heart about the importance of grieving and the validity of all our emotions, not just the happy ones.
Recommended for: mature middle-grade readers, ages 11-14
Cautions: see this review from Redeemed Reader