‘Lemons’ by Melissa Savage: Wonderful and Thoughtful Middle Grade Fiction

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“Lemons” by Melissa Savage covers some tough topics in a lovely story. The main character, Lemonade Liberty Witt, named because her mother wanted her to be able to make lemonade from tough situations, has just had a really tough situation. Her mother died.

Lem, as she is called, and her mother lived in San Francisco and enjoyed life to the fullest. Her father was never a part of the picture, and she didn’t really have other family. At least, that’s what she thought until her mother died and she went to live with her grandfather, who had been estranged from her mother, in small-town Willow Creek.

Her grandfather’s neighbor is a boy Lem’s age named Tobin. He has a detective business, Bigfoot Detectives, Inc., investigating Bigfoot, who is rumored to live in the vicinity of Willow Creek. Tobin wears a floppy tan safari hat everywhere and his “office” is in a garage. He hires Lem as his assistant, and since she has nothing else to do because she doesn’t know anyone in the small town, she agrees.

The story is filled with fabulous characters and some realistic not-so-nice kids who bully Tobin. Lem’s character is dark and brooding at the beginning. She just wants to go back to San Francisco and live with her teacher and resume her former life. She doesn’t know her grandfather at all and feels unloved.

But little by little, Lem fits more and more into the town of Willow Creek. She meets others who have also experienced loss, and she learns more about her mother from her mother’s childhood teacher, Mrs. Dickerson. Mrs. Dickerson also faithfully reports Bigfoot sightings conveniently when she has just baked some scrumptious treats.

The Bigfoot sightings increase and there’s a sweet twist at the end when the reader thinks that the mystery about the sightings has been solved, only to find out that it was not solved at all. Lem discovers that making lemonade from lemons might seem impossible at times, but with the help of family and friends, even that is achievable, and life goes on.

The story is funny in parts, touching in parts, and educational in teaching readers about what soldiers returning from Vietnam faced. Back then doctors named the symptoms CSR, combat stress reaction. Now it’s called PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. This would make a great read aloud book for the fourth or fifth grade classroom. While the beginning of the book is a bit slow, the last half more than makes up for it. Adult readers, expect a few tears.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Crown Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.

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