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The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff, 288 pp, RL 4


The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff grabbed my attention right away with the title, but what especially intrigued me was the premise in which divorcing parents settle on joint custody that in which their insistence on the even division of time has their daughter living alone in a treehouse between their properties one day a week. Graff gives her story some much needed, over-the-top details, along with scrapbook style details like sticky-notes from classmates, emails, letters, newspaper articles, transcripts and DIY instructions for crafts that make what could have been a sad story ultimately entertainingly funny.

When the highly competitive Dr. Alexis Maraj, a mathematician, and Dr. Varun Mallardi, a biologist (they argue over who has won more awards) divorce, they settle the issue of joint custody over their daughter, Winifred Mallardi-Maraj in a creative way. They purchase two houses on opposite ends of a circular piece of land that has an enormous linden tree growing in the middle. There, Winnie's uncle Huck builds a magnificent tree house with two floors, a bathroom and kitchen (the details of the plumbing are never addressed). Dividing their time with their daughter exactly equally means Winnie will spend one of the seven nights a week on her own! A crazy as this sounds, Winnie's parents escalate the insanity when Winnie's mother realizes that she will never spend Thanksgiving, the one holiday that her non-religious parents celebrated with gusto, with her daughter again. To compensate, Dr. Maraj decides to celebrate other holidays and soon, both parents are celebrating, with ferocity, every day. From Flag Day to International Safety Pin Day, to Windmill Day to Square Dancing Day, Winnie's only day of rest - and day to catch up on her homework - is Wednesdays, which means she is soon struggling to keep up with the rest of her fifth grade class. Unfortunately, her parents refuse to meet with her teacher to address this, leading Winnie to retreat to her treehouse, refusing to come out until they do.

Graff presents The Great Treehouse War in the format of a manuscript, written by Winnie in the third person, being submitted to her teacher, Mr. Benetto, for review before being entered into Pennsylvania's annual "Your Class Writes!" collective memoir contest open to grades 3 - 5. In addition to the scrapbook elements mentioned above, there are editorial notes in the text from the "Treehouse Ten," Winnie's nine classmates who end up holding a 19-day-sit-in protesting unfair treatment by their parents. The sit-in, which seems like and endlessly fun sleepover at first, is unstoppable because of a plot twist involving the Republic of Fittizio, "a long-extinct country that once built a consulate" in the town of Glennbrook, PA. The linden tree, planted over 150 years ago with a seed from the former country that was once part of Western Europe, makes it, technically, not part of the United States. While the adults wrangle over the legalities of the linden tree, Winnie and her friends begin finding their own things to argue about. While she can't get her parents into the same room to talk, Winnie does find ways to get her friends to resolve their gripes with their families, leaving her alone in the treehouse, failing fifth grade and parentless. In the end, Winnie finds a way to fix her family as well as everyone else's, for a satisfying ending to a very fun book.

Source: Review Copy


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