The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn

HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Jul. 2023. 336p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063268791.
Gr 4-6–Maudie McGinn has been waiting for summer all year, from the minute she had to leave her father in California last summer and go back to live with her mother and stepfather in Texas. Maudie doesn’t feel safe in Texas, but between her autism and fear she hasn’t been able to tell anyone why. The summer is her safe place. However, just as Maudie and her dad are getting settled in his forest cabin in Northern California, disaster strikes in the form of a sudden massive wildfire that causes them to flee without any of their possessions. Despite her mother’s protestations, Maudie is allowed to stay with her father, and they end up living in a campground in a small coastal town near San Diego thanks to the kindness of her father’s childhood friend. In their new summer home, Maudie works through the trauma of having to start fresh with none of her belongings and also keep herself entertained while her father attempts to find work every day. Once she finds the beach and the surfing community, however, she is newly determined to learn how to surf and enter a surfing competition to earn money. Standard prose is interwoven with free verse throughout the book, and the narrative shifts from the present day to widening glimpses of Maudie’s life and the dangers she faces in Texas. While the plot races along with ample suspense regarding Maudie’s safety and the surfing competition, ultimately the tale wraps up hastily and without the slower pacing the solid ending deserves.
VERDICT Themes of autism, child abuse, and the impact of wildfires combine for a unique and memorable story that will appeal to middle grade readers open to a creative format and heavier themes.

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