Across the Pond is a low-key middle grades charmer. Surely I am not the only person who has imagined what it would be like to randomly inherit a castle in Scotland? That’s exactly what happens to Callie’s family: Her mom and dad rented a cottage on the palace grounds while they were in college in Edinburgh, and the owner forged such a bond with her then-newlywed tenants that she left the castle to their family in her will. Adjusting to life in Scotland after growing up in San Diego might seem challenging, but Callie can’t wait — middle school has ripped her friend group to shreds, and she’s ready to reinvent herself in a new place. Only, as it turns out, the scenery has changed, but Callie hasn’t, and within a couple of weeks, she’s made enemies with their new handyman’s daughter and gotten kicked out of the local birding club for arguing that female birds should count in the sighting scores. The only thing keeping her going is the journal the former of the lady of the house kept when she was Callie’s age and shipped off to the countryside during the Blitz. Callie can definitely identify with Pippa’s lonely feeling of being always on the outside.
Of course this is all working toward a happier ending: Callie may have gotten kicked out of the birding club, but it helped introduce her to Rajesh, whose unflappable nice-ness is hard to resist. It also inspired her interest in birds, and as she’s trying to identify the swirling flock of tiny birds that settle in a tree across the lake every night (they’re starlings), she ends up befriending the handyman’s daughter, after all, realizing that everything isn’t always about her. Callie becomes an avid birder, making connections between her life and the birds she observes — just as Pippa did, all those years ago. There’s a core of real sweetness in this book that I loved: We all sometimes feel like we don’t belong, and we’re all delighted when we discover that we’ve found a community. For birding enthusiasts, for middle grades readers who enjoy realistic fiction, for anyone who’s ever wished for that castle in Scotland — you’ll want to pick this one up.