This is a sad book. That's the first thing you need to know about Amy Hest'smiddle-grade novel, Remembering Mrs. Rossi. Eight-year-old Annie Rossi lives a seemingly idyllic life in a New York apartment with her father, an English professor, and her mother, a sixth-grade teacher. The Rossis are exceedingly happy until one day when Mrs. Rossi doesn't feel well. She ends up in the hospital and is quite sick, perhaps with pneumonia (we're not quite sure few details are provided). Annie is scared and tries to be brave; no one expects Mrs. Rossi to die, but she does.
This is not a story about Mrs. Rossi's illness or death, however. This is a story about how Annie and her father cope and try to rebuild their lives after her death. Hest writes this tale in a gentle, real and heartfelt way. In the first chapter Annie and her father are taking a cold, nighttime walk through the streets of Manhattan, as they do from time to time when the house is too big and too quiet and Annie is waiting forever to sleep. Mr. Rossi tells Annie that when she was a baby and grew fussy, he and her mother often walked her through the streets at night in her baby carriage. Of course, Annie loves to hear such stories about when she was a baby and her mother was alive. This night, however, they are going to a special assembly in honor of Mrs. Rossi at the school where she taught. Her students have written a book, called Remembering Mrs. Rossi, which they present to Annie and her father. Annie cherishes this book, looking at it every day and often taking it to school. While Hest's novel is centered on loss, it focuses on life, on finding new ways to be happy while remembering and honoring a lost loved one. At the book's end, Mr. Rossi shows Annie pages he has been writing about his wife. As Mr. Rossi explains to Annie, he is trying to keep Mommy close . . . and let her go . . . and keep her close again. This brief but touching novel will stay in readers' hearts for a long time to come.
Alice Cary is a writer in Groton, Massachusetts.