To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

The Blurb On The Back:

Avery, you don’t know me but I’m writing to you anyway.  This is awkward but I’m just going to say it.  Your dad + my dad ARE NOW A COUPLE.  That isn’t my business, only it IS my business because my dad wants to send me to a summer camp that you’re going to.

– Bett Devlin

Bett, I think you are confused and have the wrong person.  If my papa was in a relationship with your dad, there is a one hundred per cent chance I would know about it.  We’re very close, and it’s been just the two of us almost my whole life, so we’re best friends and he tells me everything.

– Avery A. Bloom

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Bett Devlin lives with her dad (who works building swimming pools, fountains and water features) in a converted church in Venice, Los Angeles.  Her other dad, Phillip, died when she was little.  Open and direct, Bett is into surfing, loves animals and is very determined about what she wants.

12-year-old Avery Bloom lives with her dad (an architect) in New York.  She doesn’t discuss her mother with anyone.  Bookish and smart, Avery wants to be a writer when she’s older and is very neurotic, fearing open water and a host of other things.

Ordinarily, Bett and Avery would never meet.  But when their dads fall in love and decide to send the pair of them to CIGI Camp so that they can get to know each other over the summer while the dads do a motorbike tour of China, the pair are determined to break them up because the last thing either of them wants is to have a new sister …

Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer’s middle grade humorous contemporary novel (for children aged 9+) is an LGBTQ+ friendly take on THE PARENT TRAP.  I very much enjoyed the epistolary format as the girls exchange emails and try to come up with a plan to fix their problem and while some of the plot twists are obvious, others come out from left field so that you’re left with a charming, funny read with good diversity.

I’ve always been a sucker for epistolary books and I thought that Sloan and Wolitzer really nailed the format.  The characters of both girls really comes through in their correspondence (Bett direct, incautious and fast and loose with her spelling and grammar; Avery considered, careful and more buttoned up) and with a couple of minor quibbles, I bought into the reasons the reasons forcing them to continue the correspondence even after they have met up.  I believed in the friendship that grew between them during the book, even as Sloan and Wolitzer also do well at acknowledging the frustrations that each girl has with the other.

The relationship between the dads is sweetly done and Wolitzer and Sloan neatly mirror how the dads have the same chalk and cheese relationship as their daughters.  Also good is how the authors use side characters (notably Bett’s grandmother, Gaga, and Avery’s biological mother, Kristina) to further develop the characters of each dad by revealing extra facets of their personalities.  This is particularly effective with the conflict between Avery’s dad and biological mother, which I would have liked to have seen more of (but which would have been hard to do given the epistolary style). I was in two minds about how the dad storyline plays out but on reflection I think it gave the story more emotional depth and kept the focus on the girls and the way in which they had grown over the pages.

I enjoyed the humour in the book as the girls get to know each other, specifically the horror they share at the beginning of being forced to become sisters, and I also very much enjoyed the scenes/letters from Gaga as she gets the chance to do something she’s always dreamed of but also has a straight-talking way of dealing with her son. Finally, I just wanted to applaud the fact that one of the things the girls talk about in their letters is getting their period – it’s not something you see a lot of in middle grade (or even YA) fiction and it was good to see what’s really a big step for girls get addressed.

All in all, I thought this was a charming and entertaining read and I will definitely check out each author’s other work on the back of it.

TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH was released in the United Kingdom on 21st February 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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