|Image: Kokila/ Penguin Young Readers|
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya. 326 p. Kokila/ Penguin Young Readers Group, August 6, 2019. 9780451479723. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)
Middle Grade Monday features Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya. Homecomings can be fraught. While they should be joyous, expectations can lead to disappointment and worry. Emilia Torres' dad has just returned home from deployment. He's quiet and moody. Then her mom needs to travel for work, leaving her Abuela in charge. Her mom knows how to keep Emilia's wandering mind on track with schoolwork. Her opinionated Abeula does not. Emilia's stress mounts as her social studies teacher assigns a big open-ended research project about community and friend drama ensues.
This is Cartaya's third book and it's clear to me he has the middle school voice nailed - the drama, the dialogue and the assignments. I love that he created Emilia as his main character. As endearing as Arturo and Marcus are, it's nice to see a fierce girl as the center of the story.
Another strength of his is his depiction of complicated extended families and their mix of love and conflict. He also manages to sneak in some social commentary without sounding like he's on a soapbox. Here, there's PTSD, immigration issues and microagressions. Our narrator may have ADHD and some sensory issues, but she's a bright, observant budding social activist who's unafraid to wield a welder. Readers might be stirred to reflect, make connections and understand the experiences of others.
Fans of the author's earlier books will not be disappointed. Hand to thoughtful readers who enjoy realistic fiction, friendship stories and school stories.