When Ida B. was five years old, she went to kindergarten for a little over two weeks. It was not a comfortable experience, and her parents decided that she would be better off homeschooled. She spent the next four years living in bliss on the family farm and apple orchard. Having named every tree in the orchard, she found ways to listen to their voices, and the voices of the brook. Then her mother became very sick. Suddenly, and without warning, part of the farm – including some of her beloved trees – was sold to pay for the hospital bills, and Ida B. was shipped off to school.
To say that Ida B. is not happy about this situation is an ridiculous understatement. She sets out on a campaign to let the entire world know that she will never, ever, be happy ever again. She stops talking to her parents, is actively mean to the new neighbors, and refuses to allow herself to enjoy school. But this second time around, the teacher and school environment are much friendlier, and can you really hate your parents forever?
Author Katherine Hannigan does a great job of letting us feel Ida B’s rage and sense of betrayal. Her depression, and its eventual lifting – very much against her will – are realistically and poignantly portrayed. Ida B’s voice is also excellent, the character was very much alive and full dimensioned. The book is recommended and I cannot disagree with its many ardent fans. That being said, the book was not without its flaws.
One aspect of the book that I have trouble with is the fact that Ida B’s mother’s cancer is never really discussed as a possible source of some of Ida B’s emotional turmoil. There is a brief allusion towards the end of the book, when her parents mention that perhaps the entire family should have been talking more about their situation, but it could easily be interpreted as referring to the selling of the apple orchard as much as it could be the apparent fact that no one has ever sat down with Ida B to make sure she understands what her mother is going through and what the possible outcomes might be. Throughout the entire book, Ida B’s rage, as far as she is concerned, is centered squarely on the fact that she is being sent back to public school, with a dollop of ire about the selling of part of the farm. The fact that she might be upset, distraught, or otherwise affected by the fact that her mother is extremely ill is not considered. Her mother’s illness is brought up frequently, but largely in the context of “could I really be mean to someone so tired and bald? It’ll be difficult, but yes, I can.” Ida B’s behavior is entirely consistent with someone in her situation, even down to the fact that, as a child, she is not fully aware that she might be taking unexpressed feelings about her mother’s illness and channeling them towards the more concrete idea that she’s been sent back to school. But this is not explored, making it easy for the reader to walk away thinking that Ida B. must be the most spoiled, self-centered child brat in the world, for not appearing to care or be concerned about her mother, only about the inconvenience of having to go to school. While it is annoying when authors are too transparent in their work, not letting the reader make any of their own conclusions or leaps of logic, the same can be said of authors that are simply too subtle, or overestimate the ability of their readership to have the necessary background and emotional maturity to recognize the convoluted paths that grief and worry can take.