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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
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*****Run from the Nun!

by Erin MacLellan

Reviewed November 4, 2003.
Holiday House, New York, 2003.  165 pages.
Available on for $11.87 in hardcover.
Available at Sembach Library (JF MAC).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #3, Children's Contemporary Novels

Okay, I have to admit that I’m biased on this one.  In fact, I’m totally jazzed.  I can’t pretend to not be biased, since you’ll find my name on the dedication page among the critique group friends.  If I were a reviewer for The New York Times or Horn Book Magazine, I’d have to refuse to review this book, since it was written by a friend of mine.  As it is, this is my website, I can do what I want, and I want to tell everyone I know to buy this great book!

I first met Erin MacLellan in Paris in 1999 at a children’s writers’ conference.  At an open mike session, she read the first chapter of this book.  Afterwards, my roommate and I discussed how entertaining and well-written it was.  At the time, I was feeling isolated, that I must be the only one in the world who wanted to write children’s books.  So I was delighted when I met people, Erin among them, who were also interested in an e-mail critique group. 

Now, four and a half years later, we’re still going strong.  Erin sent us all the chapters of this book more than once.  We gave her suggestions, commented on revisions, and encouraged her not to dare give up on this wonderful book just because of a few rejections.

So, when I held this book in my hands, I felt almost as happy as if it were my own book published.  This past year, both Erin and another group member, Kristin Wolden Nitz, got middle-grade novels accepted for publication.  Now the other two of us know that it can be done, and it’s only a matter of time before our turn comes.  Seeing my name in print on the dedication page made that conviction all the stronger.

I had to give this book five stars.  It will always be one of my all-time favorite books, since it represents to me the possibility of publication, as well as reminding me of my wonderful writing buddies and how much their friendship and encouragement have meant to me these past four years.

However, I do believe that I would give this book at least four stars even if it weren’t written by a friend, so now I’ll try to tell some of the reasons why.

Fifth-grader Kara McKinney has been sent to Catholic school.  She doesn’t want to leave her old school or be separated from her best friend Molly.  She has the perfect solution—she’ll get kicked out!  When her attempt to simply sneak out the first morning doesn’t work, her plans get more elaborate.

What makes this book wonderful is the character of Kara.  She’s as imaginative as Anne of Green Gables, but more prone to action.  She daydreams about her dramatic escape, even as her curiosity foils her own plans.

She meets new kids at her new school.  Nicole is obsessed with criminology.  She warns Kara that there’s a delinquent in their midst.  Kara finds that easy to believe of Anthony, who welcomes her to school with a spit-wad.  But then they discover that perhaps he’s not the one who’s digging up graves in the church graveyard.  How can Kara manage to get herself kicked out, but still be around to help solve the mystery?

My 9-year-old son started this book when I brought it home, read it avidly through the afternoon, and I let him stay up tonight to finish it.  He says he’d give it four or five stars, that he liked it because of the way there is always so much going on, the way there are “two plot thingies.”  (Good job with the subplots, Erin—Timothy especially liked that!)

I have some nieces who will be getting this book for Christmas. (I don’t have any nephews that age, or they would, too.)  I’m ever so proud to have my name inside its covers.  We have a copy ordered for the library, but in the meantime, if you have a third to fifth grade kid, order this book!  It’s funny, full of action, and you’ll be supporting a highly deserving first novelist.  Congratulations, Erin, it’s a wonderful book!

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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