Hotel, motel

If you're feeling wistful about November travel -- or about the Rosebud Motel -- here are three new books set in motels. See also the Hotels and Motels subject list in the Guide/Reviews Database (free COVID-19 access info here).

No Vacancy
by Tziporah Cohen
Intermediate, Middle School    Groundwood    144 pp.    g 
9/20    978-1-77306-410-9    $16.95 
e-book ed.  978-1-77306-411-6    $14.95 

Eleven-year-old Miriam’s family buys a motel in a tiny upstate New York town and moves there from Manhattan. When it becomes clear that the motel isn’t as lucrative as her parents had hoped, Miriam (who is Jewish) and a Catholic friend successfully attract more visitors to the town by faking an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a local drive-in theater screen. This summer-in-a-small-town novel, with a mischief-based premise and an old-fashioned feel, includes plenty of exploration of how Miriam and her family fit into the larger community, particularly her interactions with Maria, the motel’s Mexican immigrant housekeeper, who’s trying to earn money for medical school; and Anton, a wheelchair user whose mother insists on seeking a miracle cure for his disability. Specific, accurate details of Jewish life are woven throughout; Miriam’s status as one of the town’s only Jews also leads to thoughtful reflections on her relationship with her Jewishness, as does an antisemitic graffiti incident at the motel. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

War at the Snow White Motel and Other Stories
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Intermediate, Middle School    Groundwood    245 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-77306-047-7    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-1-77306-048-4    $11.99

Most of the protagonists in these nine short stories are twelve years old and bumping into the realities of human nature — their own personalities and those of the people around them. In the title story, set in 1964, Rex (from Wynne-Jones’s Rex Zero novels) is on a family vacation when he tangles with bullying older teen Skip at the motel pool. Compassion dawns as Rex catches on to the teen’s fear: the United States is newly at war with Vietnam, and Skip has just registered for the draft. The next hero, Ant, can’t resist telling people about the names of creatures he sees hidden in their names (for instance, classmate Vera Best has the letters of the word beaver in hers) and is mystified by how something so interesting might offend them. All nine stories are told in first person, so the situations the narrators find themselves in (such as dealing with an elderly adult with dementia, or a father who has changed personality) are vividly conveyed, as the reader always understands the protagonist’s perspective. The settings — or landscapes, as Wynne-Jones calls them in his lengthy afterword — are another strength. Varied, funny, and often very touching, this is a fine collection, perfect for reading aloud. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Three Keys: A Front Desk Novel
by Kelly Yang
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    288 pp.    g 
9/20    978-1-338-59138-5    $17.99 
Library ed.  978-1-4328-8326-3    $20.99 
e-book ed.  978-1-338-64816-4    $10.99 

In this sequel to Front Desk (rev. 7/18), eleven-year-old Chinese American Mia Tang continues helping to run her now family-and-worker-owned motel in ­California. ­Business is going well, but negative political ads demonizing undocumented immigrants occupy the media landscape. At school, Mia forms a club where she and other marginalized classmates find validation and share instances of racism in their daily lives. Mia’s best friend Lupe reveals a long-kept secret, describing being undocumented as “being a pencil, when everyone else is a pen…You worry you can be erased anytime.” Matters intensify when Lupe’s mother struggles to return from Mexico after attending Lupe’s abuelita’s funeral, and then her father is threatened with deportation. Yang’s writing is engaging and earnest, making issues of discrimination, class, poverty, cultural identity, and gender roles accessible to young readers. Mia is a creative and determined activist, using her voice to combat injustice while uplifting the voices of others. An author’s note details extensive research on American immigration laws and their impacts on immigrant families in the 1990s. KRISTINE TECHAVANICH

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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