With “In Your Shoes,” author Donna Gephart teaches middle grade readers that while things may be going wonderfully at one moment, life is a series of ups and downs. And sometimes, in fiction just as in real life, you don’t get second chances.
There are two main characters in this story about children who aren’t necessarily perfect on the outside, but are perfectly wonderful on the inside.
Amy Silverman has moved to Buckington, PA from Chicago after her mother died and her father decided to help his brother with a funeral home. They live in the large historic home, and Amy is miserable without the dog they left behind. (They found Ernest a wonderful home with a neighbor, but Amy still didn’t have her dog.) She misses her dog, her best friend, and her dad, who is spending every week away from her for a month, learning to be a funeral home director so he can work with his brother. Most of all — she misses her mother. She also; worries that people will find out that she needs to wear a lift in one shoe because one of her legs is longer than the other.
Miles Spagoski practically lives in his family’s bowling alley. His grandfather bought it and his parents work there, and Miles spends time before school and after school helping out and trying to bowl a perfect game. Miles worries. He worries a lot about things that might happen, no matter how farfetched. He worries that having a surprise party for his grandfather will cause that man to have a heart attack.
They meet accidentally when Miles’ bowling shoe hits Amy on the forehead. It’s a sweet tale of friendship, finding what is important in life, learning to accept that life hurts sometimes but we have to find joy where we can each day, and making others happy.
Miles and Amy help each other to overcome their problems, and the ending is sweet. The friends include Randall, Miles’ best friend who is obsessively stylish and has severe asthma and Tate, Randall’s next door neighbor who becomes Amy’s friend. Tate has blue hair, lifts weights competitively, and knits. All in all, a quirky quartet of kids who support each other. And each has a distinctive personality.
Gephart effectively works to explain the circle of life. Pop, Miles’ grandfather, refuses to update the bowling alley because he wants it to be just like it was when his wife — the love of his life — Bubbie Louise was there. When Pop dies, Miles’ parents begin to update the bowling alley quickly. It doesn’t feel right to Miles, but life does go on.
Amy sees how wonderful her father and uncle are at the funeral of Miles’ grandfather, and their acts of kindness and compassion open her eyes to the importance of working in the funeral home. The comforting of people who are grieving makes her remember her own mother’s death and the comforting she needed.
Gephart magically helps readers see that not only does Amy find a friend, she also sees her father in a new way, and she comes to terms with her mother’s death. Miles learns that by helping others and thinking of them first, he doesn’t have time to worry about things that will probably never happen anyway.
There is also the inclusion of a narrator who comments on what is happening in the story and issues proclamations about life in general. The narrator, for example, questions the passage of time and says, “How does one explain the feeling that time moves at a glacial pace when one is sad and suffering? Or how time seems to pass in a blink when one is fully absorbed in an activity? Why does time seem to move too slowly when one is young and too quickly when one is old?”
It’s also a lovely addition when Amy, who loves to write and uses writing stories and poems as her way to release emotion, writes, and the reader gets to see what she’s writing.
This book is a wonderful choice for realistic fiction readers who would like a thoughtful book that will provide insight into characters and life events that can spark change. It would also be a wonderful read aloud for a classroom.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Delacorte Press, the publisher, for review purposes.