BELIEVE, a Novel
Written by Julie Mathison
Starr Creek Press 8/4/2020
232 Pages Age 8—12
Genre: Middle Grade Novel, Fiction
Themes: Power of Imagination, Friendships, Bullies
Melanie knows she’s special. She’s never been bored. She understands the secret language of old houses and makes jewels out of broken glass. Her imagination can do anything—except make friends. Then, she meets Sabrina, who looks like a TV star and acts like a spy, and who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She teaches Melanie how to believe in herself, and soon Melanie starts living her dreams. She even lands the lead in Peter Pan!
If only she could share it all with Mom. Missing her mom is like trying to breathe with one lung. It’s bad. Sabrina thinks they can track her down, and Melanie wants to believe, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend. Her new life feels like a house of cards, until one day it all comes crashing down and she finds herself with no choice but to face the truth . . . and let go. (from author’s website)
A quirky, heartfelt journey about the power and limits of the imagination—and how love both breaks and heals our hearts. (from back cover)
“The first time I met Sabrina, she came out of nowhere.
“March 18, 1980, I’d just written in my notebook. I like to document my entries for future reference. Does time exist in heaven?”
Why I like Believe
Melanie, eleven-years-old, is a loner. She has no friends—until Karen comes to harass her as she sits in the tube with her thoughts. Sitting next to Melanie is Sabrina. Sabrina helps Melanie deal with the school bully, effectively dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on their new friendship. (Idioms run rampant, as do metaphors.) Sabrina looks like one of the angels on Charlie’s Angels; both girl’s favorite television show. From then on, the two girls are inseparable in and out of school.
Karen, the vengeful bully, hangs with Kim and Leanna (or rather, the girls hang with Karen, who has no qualms about being nasty to her friends). The adults in Melanie’s life include her artist dad, dad’s good friends Roland and Roxie, and her pushy, demanding-it-her-way maternal grandmother. Mom is gone, almost a year now, undercover infiltrating a dangerous Detroit gang. It’s the 1980s.
Both Melanie and her dad miss this woman immensely; dealing with this temporary loss in their own distinctive ways. Sabrina suggests the girls try to find Melanie’s mom. They begin by going through mom’s things stored in the attic. Melanie finds addresses she doesn’t know and decides to write a note only her mother would understand. Excitably, Melanie receives some replies from mom, who signs as Tiger Lily from Peter Pan. Coincidently, Melanie’s school is putting on the play version of Peter Pan, and to Karen’s grand disappointment, Melanie wins the lead: Peter Pan. Sabrina helps Melanie by acting goofy in between her job of moving sets. Melanie’s life was pretty good.
Leanna asks Melanie for help with her writing. Melanie’s favorite teacher encourages Leanna into asking Melanie, so the girls meet on a Saturday. The two become fast friends. Sabrina quickly figures out this friendship is an “after-school-friendship.” In school, Leanna still hangs as Karen’s friend. Karen is not at all happy with this new friendship and makes a point of showing Melanie who Leanna really likes, and it is not Melanie. The closer it is to opening night of the play, the crazier Melanie feels, believing her life is moving in the wrong direction. Karen finds Melanie’s notebook, reads it aloud to cast members (who have a good laugh), grandma Gloria hands Dad a pile of undeliverable postcards from the mailman, and worst of all, Sabrina’s father moves his family out of town. Opening night is so close and it’s star is a meltdown, all to Karen’s delight.
Believe is one of those rare novels even reviewers like to say they love. Melanie is a sweet, insightful, yet introverted young girl learning to come into her own at school and at home. Sabrina is largely involved, so much that Melanie privately calls Sabrina her “muse.” So when Sabrina says she is moving to “Timbuktu,” it frightens Melanie, who will once more be friendless. She and Leanna tried to be friends, but Karen’s influence becomes too much for the girls, especially when Karen, in front of all, forces Leanna to make a choice. It isn’t Melanie.
Believe will have readers entertaining all sorts of feelings, thanks to the roller-coaster ride the author puts us on. What goes up, must come down; the author’s idea of fun. She’s correct, of course. A roller-coaster is a lot of fun whether for amusement or between the covers of a good book.
Melanie has great control over her imagination and it serves her well—until her entire world seems to crash at once. With Sabrina, I think she could have successfully managed the postcards grandma, with her I-told-you-so voice, loudly places in Dad’s hands, and the notebook in Karen’s. Without Sabrina . . .
Believe had control of me, keeping me wondering, wanting, and waiting for a conclusion I thought I might have figured out. Nope, I was wrong, but no spoilers here. You need to read Believe to find out how everything and everyone plays out. The story is perfect for boys and girls.
Boys will especially like the duo of Colin and Davis, who play Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live. These two eleven-years-olds should be in bed at that hour, yet know this character and it’s schtick amazingly well. Don’t be misled, these two are more than someone else’s characters. Like the other characters in Believe, the boys are believable, authentic, and able to make you remember them long after the back cover folds shut.
HarperChildren’s was interested in Believe, but odd things happen when you suddenly lose an agent in a world which requires an agent to get anywhere near a publisher, even one who requests a revision. Ms. Mathison decided to try self-publishing.
Attention Children’s Publishing houses: Be a smart publisher and read the reviews and the story, pick up Believe for the proper release it deserves, and help it shine even more than it currently shines. I simply cannot imagine someone reading Believe and not liking the story, including the publishers in their too-high-to-reach-without-an-agent offices.
Believe is a friendship story and an imagination story, where imagination becomes one of the characters. Readers will keep up with every character, even when they are off in separate hemispheres, book-wise, because of its talented author. Written for middle grade readers, Believe can easily find an enthusiastic audience of young adults. As for adults, especially those who like middle grade books, Believe will throw them back to their own youth.
Not often does a novel come along, middle grade, young adult, or adult, that can entertain and transform readers to the book’s century so efficiently as Believe can. Melanie is a character of our youth; instantly recognizable and quickly adored—no matter your current age.
An oft pre-imagined Acknowledgments, flavored with aspiring author wit that imaginatively charms me, leaps and bounds more than acknowledgments can normally amuse me.
Available at Amazon: Believe
BELIEVE. Copyright © 2020 by Julie Mathison. Published by Starr Creek Press, Corvallis, OR.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[1156-word count—review only]
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