by Kate Klise
Who would ever guess that a story about a young girl losing her father, brother and sister to a horrible plane crash could be so full of laughs? Yes, Grounded explores the aftermath of a horrible loss, but by its end, you realize that it is not really a story about death. It's a story about what it means to be alive. It's about the people who are left behind when tragedy strikes (Daralynn and her mother, in this case) and how they have to drag themselves up and back into life no matter how much the hurt drags them down.
Daralynn Oakland is a twelve-year-old tomboy living in the tiny southern town of Digginsville (population 402!). The story begins when she and her tough-as-nails mother Hattie find out that Daralynn's father, 16-year-old brother and 7-year-old sister have all been killed in a plane crash. The only reason Daralynn wasn't along for the ride was because she was (as the title hints) grounded. Daralynn and her mother--a proud and reserved woman--have always butted heads, and Daralynn had been grounded that day because she had run off to the lake to fish without letting her mother know where she was going. Daralynn already thought her mother's leash was short before her father, brother and sister's death, but once Daralynn is the only child left, her mother won't let her out of her sight.
At first, I had a bit of a hard time warming up to Grounded. I wasn't sure what to make of the casual tone used for such a sad situation. Also, many of the characters of Digginsville felt a bit like caricatures--Daralynn's flashy Aunt Josie, for example, in her too-tight clothing and too-bright lipstick. But Daralynn's genuine and straight-forward voice kept me reading. Soon I began to realize that Daralynn's seemingly emotionless tone when talking about the deaths was not bad writing--it was part of Daralynn's character. Much like her mother, Daralynn is not one to wear her heart on her sleeve. She and her mother are proud and not about to make a slobbery, blubbering mess of themselves in front of everyone. Daralynn and her mother cope with their tragedy in their own way.
For Daralynn, this means throwing herself into investigating Digginsville's mysterious newcomer, Mr. Clem. Mr. Clem has opened the town's first crematorium--that's right, a place where they cremate people. He cozies up to Daralynn's beloved Aunt Josie awfully quick and Daralynn decides she needs to figure this guy out. Through her investigation, which she journals about in letters addressed to her dead family members, Daralynn slowly starts to face the sad reality of her "A.C." life, as she calls it (life "After the Crash").
Daralynn is tough and observant, and she describes the oddball characters of her town with the serious tone of a news reporter. This provides a lot of humor since so many of the people of Digginsville are so quirky.
But while Daralynn's "investigation" provides humor and suspense, this story is really about a mother and daughter trying to find each other through the fog of a deeply tragic loss. I am a sucker for mother-daughter stories. Hattie just doesn't seem to understand her daughter, and what's worse is that for much of the book, she doesn't seem interested in trying to. This story is about the danger of letting a sad event harden your heart. As I read on, I found myself willing Hattie to open her eyes and see her daughter there in front of her, needing her. Losing those we love can so easily make us want to never take the risk of loving again, but as wacky Aunt Josie says, "Everybody needs somebody to take care of them, and it's the taking care of that makes us sweet" (p. 30). Grounded shows that no matter how many times your heart gets broken, it's always worth letting yourself care again.
by Kate Klise
Release date: November, 2010
Things to think about as you read Grounded:
-Character development (How do the characters--Daralynn, her mother, etc.--change as the story goes on?)
-Setting (How does the setting--small southern town in the 1970s--add to the story?)
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