For the last couple of months, Mariam and I have been casually reading our way through The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O'Connor. My girl has been pretty interested in spending her couch time engaged in independent reading lately, and with Dan being gone for most of November and December, I'll admit that read-aloud time has been tricky to find consistently. Which is exactly why it took us until today to finish this book.
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester is the story of a boy named Owen, and a summer spent living with his parents at the home of his ailing grandfather in a small, presumably rural, southern town. The titular "fantastic secret" lands in his world when it falls from a freight train one evening, and before the end of the book it has turned his restless summer into a proper adventure and even helped him to make friends with his former adversary, a know-it-all neighbor girl named Viola.
As is the case with another of O'Connor's books, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, this novel might draw some small objections from parents of particularly sensitive readers. The dramatic tension is not overly intense, but our kid characters here do defy adult edicts on occasion and are not particularly kind to one another in their lead-up to learning to work together. I did find myself doing a bit of on-the-fly editing of some of the the insults that get traded during dialogue scenes. That being said, my impression from Mariam's reaction to all of this is that it is simply a realistic approach to writing about the way that kids interact with one another when grown-ups aren't looking over their shoulders. Plus, all of this conflict leads into some reasonably triumphant cooperation. As in Popeye and Elvis, the reader's invitation to witness the eventual formation of unlikely new friendships, in cooperation with O'Connor's knack for an ending so pitch-perfect it is almost luminous, makes for a book that you can just really and truly enjoy.
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester is a book that speaks to the importance of approaching friendship with openness and of following your heart when it tells you that something is right- even when right doesn't mean easy. And I love that the book expresses these messages in a way that doesn't feel heavy-handed or preachy but instead just feels like the natural course of action. There is always something satisfying about a character doing just what you hoped that they might.
And don't forget- the January Alphabet Glue sale is still on. Enter "twenty" at checkout for 20% off!