Middle Grade Book Review: A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan – 4.5 stars

If you are a book nerd like me, you have to love a book that reads like love letter to libraries! Add in a quirky, lovable cadre of characters and a strong sense of what it means to be a middle schooler and you have the absolute winner that is A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan.

Tan’s story features Jamie, a middle school girl who has gotten into trouble (and been humiliated about it by a classmate) at the end of the school year. Because of her transgression, she’s been ‘sentenced’ to community service at the local library for the summer. Initially, Jamie dreads her service work and avoids even being seen out in public (so deep is her shame about the situation that she created at school…not-much-of-a-spoiler-alert: it involves a boy!)

As the summer moves along, however, Jamie becomes more and more interested in the library staff and its patrons and begins to develop deep and meaningful relationships with the ‘quirky characters’ I mentioned above. The local library in which she is volunteering is strapped for money and on the mayor’s chopping block. Jamie is uniquely situated to be able to see exactly what the library means to her community and the people within it and comes to discover that the library is extremely important to her too. Poignant and funny interludes between Jamie and the library crew abound in this book and are well worth the price of admission. You’ll come to love each member of the staff and ‘library regular’ that Jamie gets to know. As I said, if you love books…and especially libraries…you’re going to love this book!

I was also extremely fond of the way that Tan portrays Jamie. She’s mature for her age but also makes the kind of mistakes that someone in middle school would make. She’s beset with trouble from ‘mean girls’ who don’t want to allow her to forget her public humiliation from the school year and holding onto a serious crush on the brother of one of those girls. Having lived through a stage where I dreaded ‘mean girls’ every day, the way that Tan described Jamie’s comfort was absolutely palpable to me. If you’ve been tortured by your own set of ‘mean girls,’ you’ll understand Jamie right away…if you haven’t, there’s a phenomenal opportunity to understand the dynamic within this book!

Jamie’s parents and aunt are alluded to within the story but never present within the ‘action.’ Nevertheless, the relationship that Jamie has with her mother and the way she describes what she has learned from her is heartwarming and hopeful. While it’s clear that Jamie and her mom haven’t had it easy, it’s also evident that Jamie’s mom has worked very hard to raise her well and that the relationship between them definitely reflects that!

There are a number of subplots within A Kind of Paradise (a library romance, a couple of tragedies, a life rebound story and the story of saving the library itself) and all of them contribute to the color with which we see the library and it’s impact on the community. I sometimes find multiple ‘side stories’ distracting and unnecessary in a book with a strong plot but not this time: the subplots only added to the strength of the story of Jamie’s summer.

While this book is definitely appropriate and highly recommended for Middle Grade readers, don’t hesitate to read it yourself if you appreciate a good story, well told. A Kind of Paradise is sweet and satisfying…it will either bring back memories of a time of great growth in your own life or help you understand the growth trajectory of folks around you. Either way, it’s a quick read and a solid investment of time. Read it to enjoy…finish it to understand!

To get your own copy of A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan, please click on the link below:

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