Recommended for readers 9-13
Lowen Grover is a 12-year-old artist is using his comic book artwork to cope with the gun-related death of his young friend, Abe. He just wants to get away: away from the memories of Abe and the shooting; away from his neighborhood, where everyone knows. When he sees an article about a former mill town, Millville, holding a lottery of dollar homes to bring new life into the town, he mentions it to his parents, who apply and secure a home. It’s a chance for his family to own their own home, and a chance for his mother to start up a business, but rural life isn’t what Lowen expected, and the Millville families aren’t as welcoming to the new “Dollar Kids” and their families as he’d hoped. As the Grovers and the other new families try to make inroads into their new town, Lowen works through his grief and tries to rediscover friendship, his love for art, and his place in the community.
The Dollar Kids unpacks a lot of ideas and moments, and it’s beautifully done by author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrator Ryan Andrews. It’s a book about grief and loss, and the guilt that comes with grief. It’s also about friendship, and accepting friendship, even when one doesn’t think he or she deserves it. It’s a book about family. Finally, it’s a book about acceptance. Lowen is grieving the loss of a kid who was somewhat of a friend; a younger kid who hung around him constantly; he embraces this chance to start a new life in a rural town, but he and his family discover that a dollar home takes a great emotional and financial toll; the families in Millville don’t like change much, even when it’s to benefit their town, and feel almost contemptuous toward the newcomers. The characters are realistic and relatable, with the author giving as much attention to her supporting characters as she does her main characters. The comic book artwork by Ryan Andrews is an outlet for Lowen, and helps readers work through his grief with him.
A great middle grade book for realistic fiction readers. Explain to readers that dollar homes do, in fact, exist, and what the stigmas associated with buying a foreclosed home could entail: how may the Millvillians see the families that purchase them, in light of the town’s history? I’d booktalk this with Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide to Stinkville and The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz, both of which look at life in a rural community, and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun for addressing grief.