My rating: 2 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: (from the author's webpage) As Jamie lay alone in bed, not knowing his mother had just been killed while driving drunk, he was filled with disturbing thoughts. The last words his mother had said to him before going out were, "I've given you the last six years of my life, and for what? To always be running from one town to another? Never having a life of my own just so you could live?"
After being sent to live at the Hermitage House for Children, Jamie begins to have a series of strange and troubling dreams. Each dream is about a little blond-haired boy who has a little sister and a mother and a father. But the mother is not his mother who was killed in the car accident and he had never known his father. Yet his dreams are always about the same family, especially the little boy and his dog. And the father programs computers and makes games, even promising to build the boy a video game so lifelike the boy will think he's actually inside it.
Sometimes, Dreams Turn into Reality...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Malcolm Ater is the Award-Winning Author of Tyler's Mountain Magic, based on the true story of Tyler Moore, a teenage boy with cystic fibrosis who leads his team from Harpers Ferry on the most magical sports ride in West Virginia public school history. It was selected as Best Book Length Story of 2011 by the West Virginia Writers, Inc. and was winner of the 2012 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in Sports.
AWARDS: The Hermitage House Miracle was selected as the 2012 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner for Best Contemporary Fantasy and also chosen as the 2012 Finalist for Best Children's Book by the West Virginia Writers, Inc.
MY THOUGHTS: Written for middle school children and older, the plot is simple and straight-forward. We know that the main character, 12-year-old Jamie, has gone through pretty traumatic events, but he keeps his childhood innocence and maintains hope to one day be loved. He is an inspiring little guy, easy to connect with. Topics such as bullying, abuse, and alcohol use are touched on as Jamie's story unfolds, and the author handles them well.
The sentence structure in this book, as well as the vocabulary, lend toward it being used either as a read-aloud or for independent reading in pre-adolescents. I don't see my early teen girls finishing this book because it has a choppy feel to it, and the resolution to the problem is presented in many not-so-subtle ways. To a reader with any experience in mysteries, even a young reader, little Jamie's secretive past probably became clear a few chapters into the book, although Jamie and his caretakers didn't figure it out until the end.
I was confused several times and had to re-read paragraphs, unsure of who was narrating. In one sentence, we are hearing Jamie's thoughts and opinions, and in the next we move right into someone else's, without transition. For example, in chapter 18, Jamie is walked home from the video arcade by Arnold, an older boy who works there, after Jamie vomited playing one of the games. The sisters of the orphanage send Jamie to bed, which he gladly agrees to in order to keep the possibility alive that he can return to the arcade the following day, before the owner removes his favorite video game.
Arnold had already reminded him on the way home that the machine would probably be moved sometime in the early afternoon. The older boy seemed relieved that The Returner would finally be gone. Arnold was becoming more and more perplexed by Jamie's increasingly strange behavior around it.So we see that Arnold "seems" relieved, but then we are instantly looking into Arnold's thoughts, all within the same paragraph. This happened several times and broke the continuity of the story.
Written as a juvenile mystery, the story crossed the line into paranormal and actually gave me the heebie jeebies by the time I'd finished. (SPOILER ALERT) I liked that this boy's birth family never gave up hope of finding their kidnapped child. I even got into the sci-fi idea that Jamie's father built a video game that was able to awaken the child's repressed memories and remind him who he really was. But when all of the rescue and return home turns out to be because of a dead dog's spirit coming back and orchestrating everything, that was too much for me. It would have been easier to swallow if the live dog really had searched all over the country, and the dad really was inspired to fulfill his promise to his lost son by building this special video game. Instead, we read the father's explanation of the night he built the video game in chapter 23:
The dog howled all through the night on your birthday, like it was telling me what to do, like it was giving me instructions. I started working that night on The Returner, and I honestly felt possessed, as if something had taken over my body.
And I honestly felt let down. This sweet story of a lost boy, cared for by gracious women in a poor orphanage and ultimately reunited with his family, was converted at the very end into a paranormal ghost story that didn't do the rest of the book justice. The far-fetched explanation of events was a real stretch and really detracted from the happy ending. I can't imagine that a child who liked the first part of the book would care for the ending, nor that one who was looking for the sort of book it ended up being, would make it through the first 3/4's of the story.
PARENTAL RATING: Though this is not a Christian book, the author portrayed the lovely women of the orphanage as praying women, and his viewpoint on vices such as alcoholism and abuse was appropriate. I wouldn't pass this along to a middle-school aged child, however, because I think the end would scare him a bit, rather than leave him with this warm, fuzzy feeling the author tried to invoke. As always, use your judgement and know your child.
**I received this book from netGalley.com and the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.