How do you make the most of an unthinkable situation? Well, tweenage Stella—named after her long-gone father’s favorite song, “Stella by Starlight”—has always been able to make the best of things. But that ability is about to be tested in ways she never imagined.

With a misguided absentee mother, Stella has gone to live with her great-aunt Louise in Cape Cod. And with Louise’s blueberry pies, spacious garden and Linger Longer rental cottages, Stella might never want to leave—except for Louise’s foster child, Angel. With a tough, unflinching attitude, Angel (who has a penchant for Dum-Dums suckers and junk food) is not friend material.

The two are like oil and water until the unthinkable happens—to avoid a spoiler, we won’t say just what—forcing the two to team up to survive. Stella relies on her wits and her favorite Hints from Heloise (whom she idolizes) to hold down the fort in Louise’s unexpected absence, while Angel remains abrasive and unhelpful as ever.

As the summer goes on, their tug of war continues and their burdens grow—both physically and mentally. Soon, however, the two develop first a tacit understanding and then a deepening friendship. Their forced collaboration becomes true cooperation, as they discover that two can be much stronger than one.

What is the true meaning of family? And how can unexpected circumstances change the dynamics of a relationship? Those questions are at the core of this moving coming-of-age novel by Sara Pennypacker, best known for her Clementine chapter books. While two different young girls tackle the most challenging of circumstances, they learn their own strengths (and share them) and weaknesses (and aren’t afraid to show them).

Pennypacker has a fine insight into the minds and emotions of preteens and is able to create a realistic picture of what it’s like to stand up for oneself, while being brave enough to let others in.

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