Eleven-year-old Tash is angry. She doesn’t want to go to camp, but her Uncle Kevin needs to travel to Australia, and she and Cap’n Jackie, their friend and neighbor, clashed over the whole business. Tash ends up having a pretty good time at camp, after all, but returns home to find Cap’n Jackie gone: she’s had a fall and is in the hospital, and Tash’s world turns upside down overnight. She’s determined to return a special key to Cap’n Jackie; one that opens up a magical world to her, and that’ll make it all better. Cap’n Jackie even said so, so it has to be true, right?
The Key to Everything can be a bit hard to follow. We have Tash, seemingly abandoned by her mother and living her with uncle while her father is in jail. Kevin, who takes care of Tash, Cap’n Jackie, a loving and cantankerous older woman, and Nathan, Cap’n Jackie’s nephew, who lives in New York, but comes back when Cap’n Jackie is hurt. We don’t get a lot of exposition in this story, but we do learn that family is who you make it. Two major characters, Jackie and Nathan, are gay; something that’s very lightly touched on, but it’s nicely done. Tash suffers from PTSD and a fear of being alone, while Jackie struggled with agoraphobia. Readers have to put in a bit of work to make all the lines connect, but it’s a solid read about family, grief, moving on, and growing up.