Lemons by Melissa Savage, 320 pp, RL 4
I am a huge fan of cryptids (animals that people believe are real, yet their existence has not been definitively proven) and was so excited when I discovered that Lemons by Melissa Savage is set in the Willow Creek, California, the Bigfoot capitol of the world just a few years after the famous Patterson-Gilman footage of an unidentified subject (looking very much like Bigfoot) was filmed in 1967. I was less excited when I learned that Lemonade Liberty Witt, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Lemons has just lost her mother and been sent to live with a grandfather she never knew. A deceased parent is a prevalent plot point in middle grade fiction, regardless of genre. Absent parents make so many things possible in a kid's book, whether it's travel to another world or a trip down the block. In today's reality, adults play a huge part in children's lives and are always around, in the form of parent, teacher and caregiver. From the perspective of a young reader, a book with a lot of adults characters running the show is probably not too interesting. And, in terms of character development, it doesn't necessarily allow for the kind of growth and action that makes a story engaging. So, I get it. We need absentee parents in kid's books. Where the author chooses to take their parentless protagonist is another thing. In Lemons, Savage takes Lemonade Liberty Witt to a place that, while heavy with grief, is also lifted up by love and the thoughtful connections the wonderful characters, young and old, make with each other in this memorable book.
Lemons (known as Bigfoot, Tobin & Me in other parts of the world, UK cover on the left) is narrated by Lemonade Liberty Witt, the daughter of Elizabeth Lilly Witt. As the novel begins, Lemonade is being taken from her home in San Francisco, where her mother was a veterinarian, to live with her grandfather, Charlie. Father and daughter had a falling out years back, unable to support each other through their grief at the loss of wife and mother, Rebecca. Charlie is the owner of a souvenir store featuring Bigfoot merchandise and jerkies from all over the world, and is a mostly silent man who lives simply. Lem has a hard time adjusting to his ways, but neighbor and small business owner, eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, helps divert her from thinking about losing her mother and her home. Tobin runs Bigfoot Detectives Inc, which has been, "Handling all your Bigfoot needs since 1974" out of Charlie's garage. He has an answering machine, a pith helmet and a movie camera and is ready to investigate sightings at a moment's notice.
As Lem gets caught up in Tobin's work, she meets people around town and tentatively makes friends. The widow Mrs. Dickerson has weekly sightings, although Lem suspects she's just lonely and wants someone to share her freshly baked cookies with. The kids in town welcome Lem but make fun of Tobin, putting her in a difficult spot. Lem is frustrated that Charlie doesn't seem to be making any changes to accommodate her now that she is in his life (he uses Irish Spring soap and doesn't even ask if Lem would like bubble bath) but, she eventually realizes, he does seem to be ordering something new and kid appropriate from the Sears & Roebuck catalog for her each week.
As Tobin and Lem get closer to their own Bigfoot sighting, real life intersects. Savage weaves Tobin's father, a soldier who went missing in Vietnam during the war, into the plot, adding to the grief and loss felt by so many characters in the story. The conversations and connections made between Lem and Charlie, Lem and Mrs. Dickerson and Lem and Tobin make for some of the best, purest moments of the novel and he resolutions for Lem, Charlie, Tobin and his mom that come near the end of Lemons are powerful. And, as a lover of all things cryptid, the final chapters that have Lem investigating a sighting on her own are downright magical. While I was a little skeptical when I started reading Lemons, Savage's story hooked me quickly and is one that I will think about often afterward.
Source: Review Copy