The voice of Lizzie McMann, the 12-year old narrating Bonnie Shimko’s Letters In The Attic, will live in your head after you finish the book. Blunt, funny, and endearing, Lizzie’s at a turning point when the book begins. It’s the early 60s. Lizzie’s mother’s long-term boyfriend (and her alleged father) bring home a floozy, and Lizzie and her mother Veronica face being evicted from the sleazy motel that is the only home Lizzie knows. Luckily, they can fall back on Veronica’s childhood home of Ridgewood, New York, the small-town paradise she ran away from for love. And love finds them both when they return: for Veronica in the shape of Lizzie’s gentlemanly seventh-grade teacher, and for Lizzie, in the unlikely shape of a Natalie Wood look-alike. Eva Singer is Jewish, dyslexic, and a year older than Lizzie.

This book is billed as a teen lesbian romance in the tradition of Annie on My Mind. I’d say it’s so much more than that. For starters, the lesbian content is surprisingly slight, but handled so that it doesn’t overwhelm the book’s larger themes of forgiveness and weathering life’s storms and disappointments. The twists and turns and introductions of new plot points feel surprisingly natural and patterned after what real life is often like: running into old friends, scandals, and heartbreak. Yet despite the sheer amount of dark situations the book packs in, it never feels like a soap opera. All the characters have engaging little quirks, such as Veronica’s striving naiveté (she goes so far as to fabricate loving birthday cards from her lowdown ex) and her conviction that her teenage years as a prize piano pupil are worth something in the working world. Eva’s Natalie Wood circa Rebel Without A Cause dialogue hides her bruised psyche. By book’s end, you feel a real affection for Ridgewood and its plucky inhabitants.

But it’s Lizzie who will steal your heart. She constantly drops gems of inner thought. Here’s what she has to say about how she talks to her mother:

“ ‘Oh, okay’. I hear myself say in a tape-recorder voice—like when you hear yourself for the first time and you don’t believe it’s you because you couldn’t possibly sound like that much of a dope.”

Honesty like that plus a genuine good nature makes this girl one heck of a catch. It’s never clear if Eva reciprocates Lizzie’s love, but if she lets her go, I’d be next in line to date her.~Liz