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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Friendship, Middle Grade Readers

TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer


To Night Owl from Dogfish is the story of Avery and Bett.  They are both 12-year-old girls and both are being raised by a single, gay dad. The story begins with an email from Bett to Avery.  They have never met, but each has received information from her father that the two girls will be attending the same 8-week summer camp together as a way to get to know each other because their fathers are in love and are thinking of blending their two families. The entire story is told mostly in emails, but also through handwritten letters among the characters. The book begins with an email from Bett to Avery, as she has just discovered their fathers’ summer plan for them.  The two girls exchange emails stressing that neither of them has ANY desire to know, or be friends with, the other.

Predictably, Bett and Avery do meet at the summer camp and they (of course) end up beginning an interesting friendship.  As the girls’ friendship grows and deepens, their fathers’ relationship hits some big roadblocks.  About halfway through the book Bett and Avery’s story transitions into a modern version of Walt Disney’s The Parent Trap.

To Night Owl from Dogfish was not the read I expected.  I picked it up because Holly Goldberg Sloan is one of the authors and I really liked Counting By 7s.  I expected a little more serious read but was not disappointed to find myself flying through the beginning of this book, relaxing easily into it. The first two-thirds of To Night Owl from Dogfish is fun, sweet, a little quirky in the best ways and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember loving those Walt Disney-ish themes that centered around children and what they could actually do to affect change in their circumstances. For me, the final third of the book lost the pacing it had previously established and the introduction of a couple of characters and a particular setting in the last 60 pages felt like a blatant manipulation by the authors to get us from where the plot had quite naturally brought Bett and Avery, to the place where the authors wanted them to be at the end of the book.  This was disappointing for me and kind of deflated the enthusiasm I had for this book during most of my read. The other thing I noticed that bothered me a little is that, although Bett and Avery are supposed to be very different (Avery is anxious, bookish and introverted; Bett is athletically inclined, impulsive and extroverted), they often sound very similar in their correspondence.  Sometimes I would have to backtrack to remember who was speaking because I couldn’t immediately tell from the tone or language.  The correspondence structure of the book mostly works. Switching from emails to handwritten letters in the last 60 pages or so somehow interrupts the smooth pacing of the novel and doesn’t seem to work as well.

I would recommend To Night Owl from Dogfish as a light, easy read for middle grade readers (5th -6th graders)–particularly girls. In spite of the technical issues I had with the structure, it was a fun read and will appeal to its target group of readers.

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