E. Anderson's Reviews > Out of the Box

Out of the Box by Michelle Mulder
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Apr 06, 2011

really liked it
Read from April 04 to 06, 2011

I’ve recently had friends tell me that they’ve been a little disenchanted with middle grade. I have to admit, I don’t read a ton of middle grade. I stick mostly to YA and sometimes read an adult book or a tween novel here and there. Which is why I picked up Michelle Mulder‘s OUT OF THE BOX — it has that perfect tween-ness to it, with thirteen-year-old Ellie right on that line that straddles the innocence of childhood and the angst of growing up. I love that kind of story. And OUT OF THE BOX blew me away.

Ellie is super close to her family — her mom and dad always taught her that families talk about everything, so she always knows what’s going on in her parents’ heads. Sometimes that’s not such a good thing. Ellie struggles to be supportive of her mom when she’s feeling depressed, or when her dad hides out in his office for a super long time. She’s excited, though, to be spending the summer with her eccentric Aunt Jeanette in Victoria, helping to clean out her basement. While Ellie’s mom is sad to see her go, Ellie can’t wait to spend time with Jeanette sorting through all the junk and looking for gems to sell in a yardsale to benefit the local homeless shelter.

It’s not long before Ellie finds a gem of her own — an Argentine instrument similar to the accordion called a bandneon. Ellie secretly loves tango music, even though her dad loathes the accordion he was made to play as a kid. When Aunt Jeanette tells Ellie she can have it, she’s beyond excited. She doesn’t tell anyone about it, though, but her new friend Sarah, the pretty girl next door who has surprised Ellie with her sweet and welcoming nature. Of course, everything isn’t peaches and cream with Ellie. Sure, she’s having a fun time with Sarah and going on regular adventures with her aunt, but things at home aren’t exactly spectacular, and Ellie’s mom calls every day to tell her how much she is missed. Plus, Ellie has found a secret sewn into the lining of the bandoneon case — both Canadian and Argentine money, and identification that Ellie traces back to people who went missing in the 70′s. In fact, she’s about to find out a lot about Argentine history that puts her on the hunt for the original owner of the bandoneon, even though it means she might have to give it back.

OUT OF THE BOX has so many elements — the nature of family and friends, loss, politics, mystery, music, and even mental illness — but everything is tightly knit together, creating a story that is both compelling and beautifully written. I felt like I knew Ellie by the time I finished this book. I was rooting for her every time she got a tough call from her mother, I cheered her on while she researched Argentine history, and I held my breath when she was having a tough time with her friends. For everyone who feels like there’s something missing in contemporary middle grade, I’m telling you, you’ve got to hunt this title down. You won’t be sorry.
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