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The size of what he’d volunteered to do hit Ted like a sack of grain.  And all this was going to take money, too.  Not to mention time.

But he’d said he’d help.  He’d shaken hands with April and he’d said, “See ya later.”  So it wasn’t like he had a choice!

Because a Scout is trustworthy.

And so is a detective.  And a paperboy.

(from Room One, page 49)

Ted Hammond is the only 6th grader at Red Prairie Learning Center in Plattsford, Nebraska.  With many farmers and families moving away, the school expects only five students in the coming year, and there are concerns the school could close completely.  As it is, rooms have been shuttered to save money, there’s only one teacher for the middle schoolers, and Mrs. Mitchell and the students are responsible for keeping the building and grounds clean.  Room One is the only room left open, and Ted has creating a learning space for himself in the middle.  He does a lot of independent work and reads a lot of detective novels — so many that he fancies himself an amateur sleuth.

One day as he’s delivering papers, he sees a face in the window of the vacant farmhouse that once belonged to the Andersons.  After some investigating, he discovers a young girl named April, who has taken up residence in the home with her mother and younger brother.  Circumstances have forced the trio to seek shelter and stay hidden, but they’re running out of food.  Big-hearted Ted agrees to help, as well as keep their secret.

The Girl (age 10) was assigned Room One by Andrew Clements for summer reading, but after reading Clements’ Frindle (read her review) for summer reading last year and not really enjoying it, it was like pulling teeth to get her to read this book.  To make summer reading fun and encourage her to give Clements another try, I suggested that we read Room One together.  Overall, The Girl is glad she gave Clements another chance, though she’s convinced he’ll never rank among her favorite authors, and I’m glad to have finally read something by this author I have heard a lot about from her.

Room One covers a lot of ground.  It’s about a family living in fear, on the run, and in hiding and the young boy who takes it upon himself to help them.  It’s also about the issues facing a struggling small town, and how these economic problems affect local schools, farms, and jobs.  But mainly it’s the story of a struggling small town that pulls together to help a family in need.  The town might have limited financial resources, but it has unlimited compassion, and we all could learn something from Plattsford’s residents.

However, it wasn’t the most engaging middle-grade book we’ve read.  We agree that Clements takes too long to get to the point of the story, and we didn’t like how the point of view would shift several times in a chapter as the story progressed.  We liked Ted, thought he was a kind-hearted, well-meaning boy, and we really felt for April and her family, but the ending was both anti-climactic and too neat given the circumstances.  Still, I have to admire Clements for tackling serious issues in a middle-grade novel and giving younger readers many things to ponder.

Disclosure: We borrowed Room One from the library. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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