Monday, June 15, 2015

2016 Contenders: Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, by Tricia Springstubb

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness is the second Tricia Springstubb book we've reviewed this year, after Moonpenny Island. However, while Moonpenny Island is aimed at a traditional middle-grade audience, Cody is pitched younger, more to readers currently enjoying the Clementine books, or The Year of Billy Miller.

Cody's loose plot involves the beginning of the titular character's summer vacation. She makes a new friend, Spencer, by helping him find a lost cat, and her new babysitter turns out to be Payton, the object of her brother Wyatt's affections. There's also some drama involving her mother's promotion at work. All of these elements drift in and out of the book as it meanders towards its conclusion -- while it's a quick read, it's not exactly a propulsive one.

Moonpenny Island remains my favorite book of the year so far (although there are still some contenders I need to read). Cody works a lot less well for me, possibly because, even for a book for younger children, the stakes always feel so low -- particularly for Cody herself, whose problems often take a back seat to those of her mom, Wyatt, and/or Spencer. Kevin Henkes books often have the same issue, to take one example, but part of Henkes' genius is his ability to make problems that are trivial for adults take on weight and heft in the minds of his child protagonists. Cody doesn't achieve a similar effect, nor is its protagonist as memorable as Clementine or Ramona or Junie B. Jones.

That's not to say it's not an entirely pleasant book. The prose is solid, if not as poetic as that in Moonpenny Island, and it has its moments of humor. Even for a quasi-episodic novel, however, Cody is loosely structured -- the relationship between Wyatt and Payton, for example, ends on a weirdly sour note, and it seems odd for the book to finish with the characters discussing the party that's happening that night, rather than with them attending it. It's possible that Springstubb plans on writing more books about Cody and so is leaving some plot threads deliberately unresolved, but taken on its own, the ending really did seem a bit of a let-down to me.

At any rate, especially with how strong a book Moonpenny Island is, I don't think there's going to be a lot of room at the Newbery podium for Cody. One thing I'd be very interested in, however, would be getting an actual child reader's opinion of this one; it seems entirely possible to me that its target audience might enjoy it more than I did.

Published in April by Candlewick

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