Review of The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas
by Kimberly Willis Holt
Intermediate, Middle School    Ottaviano/Holt    320 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-250-23410-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-23411-7    $9.99

The narrator of this sequel to National Book Award winner When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (rev. 11/99) is Rylee Wilson, daughter of the first book’s protagonist, Toby. At the beginning of seventh grade, Rylee watches Twig, her former BFF, pull away, seeking new friends and new interests. In a prophetic observation, Toby tells Rylee: “People come and go even when we don’t want them to.” And one person who unexpectedly comes into Rylee’s life is Joe, unhappily transplanted from Brooklyn to Rylee’s hometown of Antler, a place he immediately dubs as Nowhere, Texas. As self-proclaimed ambassador Rylee tries to get Joe to accept and appreciate her town (and herself to understand her changed relationship with Twig), the two begin a quest to track down Zachary Beaver, Rylee’s father’s onetime friend. She wonders about the wisdom of such a search, but, as Joe tells her, “If you’re a true friend, you’re a friend for life.” Toby, now a social studies teacher, believes that history is about people. Mirroring that belief, Holt deftly intertwines the stories of the individuals from both books, each set at a pivotal time in our country’s past, the earlier work during the Vietnam War and the latter in the aftermath of 9/11. This volume is a literary reunion of sorts, but more important is its deep examination of the meaning and responsibilities of friendship, family, and community. While Holt’s latest can stand alone, its considerable strengths shine brighter when read with Zachary Beaver [see also “Hello Again” on page 34].

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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