The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie had me sobbing then cheering at my kitchen table last night as I sped through this truly outstanding debut novel for middle grade readers.
Guinevere (Gwyn) St. Clair has moved from NYC to Crow, Iowa with her father Jed, sister Bitty, and mother Vienna. They’ve returned to Jed & Vienna’s hometown in an attempt to help Vienna recover from a traumatic brain injury which has left her with no memories beyond her 13th year. Moving in with Vienna’s mother, Gwyn and Bitty experience culture shock, as the busy, concrete world of NYC is replaced by dirt roads and rows and rows of corn. The girls make friends with Jimmy & Micah, who live with Gaysie Cutter, who knew Jed and Vienna way back when. Gwyn takes an immediate dislike to Gaysie, who ultimately becomes a suspect in Gwyn’s investigation into the disappearance of a local farmer. Gwyn learns a great deal about friendship, responsibility, heartbreak, and love during her first year in Crow.
It’s been awhile since I read a set of characters as memorable and engaging as Gwyn, Bitty, Jimmy, Micah, and Gaysie, with Gwyn shaking out as the mastermind and leader despite her flaws. Part Opal Buloni, part Harriet the Spy, Gwyn approaches her challenges with a single-minded determination to get to the truth. She’s by turns sassy, infuriating, sad, and loving, all the while nursing this unimaginable pain in knowing that her mother no longer knows who she is. Gwyn’s aversion to Gaysie is nicely juxtaposed with Vienna’s friendship with her – while Gaysie repels Gwyn, she is welcomed by Vienna as a treasured friend. Gaysie is as complex a character as I’ve come across in a novel for this age. She’s physically intimidating and scary, with a tendency to “SNAP,” but she is also loving, nurturing, and protective. She is, in many senses, the mother Gwyn misses so fiercely. The story moves along at a good pace, with lots of action, humor, and pathos well spaced throughout. I really thought the ending was going to rival Shiloh for heartbreak, but I was mistaken. I predict Newbery consideration for this one. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: June 12, 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy