Review of To Night Owl from Dogfish

To Night Owl from Dogfish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
Intermediate, Middle School    Dial/Dutton    311 pp.    g
2/19    978-0-5255-5323-6    $17.99

At the start of this epistolary (via email) novel, twelve-year-olds Bett Devlin, an adventure-loving California girl of African American and Brazilian descent, and Avery Bloom, a tightly wound New Yorker whose single father is Ukrainian Jewish, are strangers (and adversaries) about to be thrown together at sleep-away summer camp. Their fathers are semi-secretly, bi-coastally dating, and they want their daughters to get to know each other while they themselves are vacationing in China. The girls are resistant, especially set-in-her-ways Avery, but they gradually become non-enemies and then friends and then actually psyched to become sisters, keeping up their correspondence even after camp ends (spoiler alert: they get kicked out). But while Bett and Avery are busily planning a wedding, their dads — whose misadventures in China are humorously detailed — are breaking up. Some Parent Trap–type shenanigans ensue, but the story’s main focus is the strength of chosen family. Sloan and Wolitzer nicely differentiate their protagonists’ voices, making the emails believable even while the girls are seeing each other every day at camp. Occasional missives from well-drawn supporting players (the dads, Bett’s personality-filled grandmother, Avery’s back-in-the-picture birth mother) deepen the characterizations while further entwining the two families. Although the secondary storylines are somewhat farfetched, the warmth of the characters’ interactions, including the girls’ witty banter (“You and I are now the Romeo and Juliet of friendship. Only we’re the Juliet and Juliet”), is emotionally satisfying.

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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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