Knot What I Expected by Suzanne Gibbs
Having never done this before (writing for Nerdy Book Club), and feeling more than a little intimidated, I must first make a disclaimer. I have been a long-time lover of non-fiction. Devoured it. There was always a book I was immersed in to become a better teacher, mom, musician, designer, you-name-it. Non-fiction was the type of book that showed up on my debit card purchases. I read fiction for my students, but their needs were the cul-de-sac. Somehow fiction seemed, I don’t know, selfish. Selfish, that is, until a family member pointed out something very important: There’s no rival to fiction when it comes to helping us (me) become more empathetic. His single statement changed my life. Really. I feel like I have so much catching up to do, but it is proving to be more rewarding than I could have imagined.
In the year and a half since that conversation, I have read more fiction than in all of the years preceding – combined. I have come to adore many authors, and my perspective on libraries and their patrons has altered dramatically. My family now expects to see me reading some new (or old) tale I had formerly missed. I am now disappointed when some of the books I long to recommend to my students are all checked out in the classroom library and cannot be found in our school library. Where I am today as a reader – and where my students are – is definitely not what I would have ever expected. My kids read constantly, share their loves (and “not-loves”) with each other and their families, give book talks, blog or make a video about their latest read, and stretch themselves to read across genres. We check in with each other to see how our characters are growing, how we’re growing as readers, to make sure we’re being well-rounded readers, and, of course, to make sure we don’t miss out on any great books.
Speaking of great books, in A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff my pre-conceived notions of a simple middle grade chapter book were blown out of the water the instant I fired up my Kindle and clicked on the opening page. This being the first book I’ve read by Lisa, I’m now anxious to read her other offerings. The opening scene brings up so many questions and sparks such curiosity it’s almost impossible to put it down. What follows the prologue is the perfect pinch of supernatural, the exact measurement of spicy intrigue, and the precise mixing of believability and hope. Like a great dessert, you can’t keep from indulging.
This is a wonderfully told saga of recipes (which so totally doesn’t seem like a middle grade “thing”), rare vintage suitcases, and relationships. All of the above are lost and then maybe, with a tiny bit of…something, possibly found again.
There are intriguing characters who pop in to tickle our curiosity or give us cause for concern. There are treasures like Cady and her care-giver, Miss Mallory, who are pure in spirit and purpose. They are both also Talented. (I asked a student who was reading it why the word “Talented” is capitalized. “Hmmmm,” she wondered. “Maybe I need to slow down and figure that out.” “Yeah,” I thought. “That would be good.”) Cady bakes cakes perfectly suited to the person for whom they are created. I could practically taste and smell them as I read the recipes. And she’s won first place every year since she began entering the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff. Her first entry was at the age of five, when she first came to Miss Mallory, who has a Talent for finding the perfect family for her charges. In spite of Miss Mallory’s Talent, however, Cady spends eleven years at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Along with Cady and Miss Mallory there is the mysterious man in the gray suit. And the man with the blue suitcase who is in search of something. And the Asher family. And Toby. The creativity and imagination that birthed these individuals is astounding. Each character is incredibly unique and fascinating. Each either has a Talent or is earnestly searching for one. Each character develops beautifully, or tragically, facing surprises and disappointments that pull you into their tangled lives. They all seem to live in their own worlds, which have nothing to do with each other, and you wonder and predict time and again how their lives will come together. The story is dependent on every person (and pet) we come to know. Ferreting out those relationships is delightful. The way their paths intertwine is spell-binding, and you only discover those relationships by turning another page.
Lisa has concocted the perfect recipe. This is not only a book I loved reading, but one I have begun reading aloud to my students, in part because it gives me an excuse to read it again! My kids like to rate books with stars, so using the rubric of my fourth-graders, I give A Tangle of Knots 5 out of 5 stars. I’m confident they will, too.
Suzanne is a fourth grade teacher. Reading, sharing books with students, colleagues, and friends, and finding new ways to use technology to grab students are some of the things she’s passionate about. She is an avid musician, a seamstress without enough time for all of her ideas, a Survivor wanna-be, and a woman who feels much younger than she really is. She’s also a wife and a mom to two beautiful daughters she hopes will earnestly seek, find and use their own Talents. You can find her online at suzanneclassroom.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @suz_gibbs.