The Center of Everything is the touching story of Ruby Pepperdine–a 6th grader who has recently lost her beloved grandmother, Gigi. As so often happens when we lose someone we love so fiercely, we have regrets over what we did and did not do, what we did and did not say.
Gigi told Ruby to “listen” the last time Ruby saw her grandmother. Ever since that day Ruby has regretted the fact that she didn’t listen harder. Instead she went and got on the bus as her mother told her to do. Ruby feels she didn’t try hard enough to listen and understand what Gigi may have been trying to tell her. When Ruby participates in a town legend to obtain a wish for her 12th birthday, she sees a chance to fix everything–to make time and life the way they were “supposed to” be.
Ruby’s voice is so genuinely twelve that she touched my heart. We all know what it is like to want desperately to change things (big and small), to keep who and what we love always close and to keep what we fear and what hurts far away. All of these impulses are natural and rooted in our humanness. Balancing change with joy is a lifelong journey in which we all participate. When the author poses the following thought as a possibility through Ruby she speaks to every reader, young and old:
…most of the time she [Ruby] will think that there really isn’t a supposed to at all. That all she can do is her best at any particular moment. And that sometimes that will lead to things feeling great, and sometimes it will not. And that is as supposed to as it gets.
The Center of Everything is a gentle tale that students will probably need encouragement to read independently. The plot and narration structure are complicated in that the author switches back and forth between past and present without clear indications. Younger readers will especially find this difficult to follow and understand.
This book is best read as an independent reading selection by middle school students and up, but could easily still be used as a read-aloud in 4th or 5th grade in order to help guide students through the sometimes convoluted plot structure. A good lead-in to reading The Center of Everything is to read some of Linda Urban’s earlier work: A Crooked Kind of Perfect is similar in style but with an easier structure. Lisa Graff’s Umbrella Summer is similar in content but with a clearer plot structure.