Becky Citra’s Finding Grace is the latest instalment of the Gutsy Girl series of novels for middle-graders from Second Story Press, featuring girls who are “smart, brave, funny, and inspiring.”
It’s the mid-1950s, and 11-year-old Hope King is lonely. To avoid thinking about her mother’s mysterious behaviour and money troubles, Hope spends most of her time reading and secretly writing to her imaginary friend, Grace. When her grandmother suddenly dies, a long-held family secret is revealed. Hope discovers that Grace isn’t imaginary after all. In reality, Grace is her twin sister, who was given up for adoption after she contracted polio as a toddler. Hope becomes convinced that finding her sister is the only thing that will help her mother, and the pair sets out to find Grace.
Hope isn’t the only “gutsy girl” in this novel. Grace doesn’t allow her leg pain to stop her from being adventurous or having friends. Granny might be tough, but she is also economically savvy, making sure that her family is provided for after her death. Grace’s Aunt Eve is an intelligent businesswoman and serves as a foil to Hope’s mother, who depends on male interest to boost her self-confidence, though even she finds inner strength when tragedy forces her into action.
Citra references books traditionally associated with girl readers, such as L.M. Montgomery’s Jane of Lantern Hill and Caroline Keene’s Nancy Drew series (allusions to the latter are particularly prevalent in the novel’s second half, when Hope is solving a mystery of her own). The links are tenuous, at best, but do provide insight into Hope’s character.
Citra successfully tells a very focused, plot-driven story, but it sometimes lacks the emotional weight necessary to make us feel for Hope and her mother. However, middle-grade readers will find Hope’s letters and era-appropriate expressions quite endearing.