Out of the Box (2011), by Michelle Mulder

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 16.4.

Out of the Box

While the writing style is uneven, Out of the Box is nonetheless a successful novel for young teens and tweens.  The two intertwined stories coalesce effectively in the end, helping the reader to feel content that Ellie will become a strong, balanced teenager wherever she ends up.  Reaching this space is not easy, as she is caught between parents who both lean far too heavily on her for their own emotional support, needs that are fuelled by her mother’s undiagnosed mental illness.  Ellie loves her parents, and wants to help them, and is thus angered at her aunt’s attempts to shield her from her family troubles.  Through the process of discovering the fate of the owner of a bandonéon she inherits from her aunt’s partner, Alison, she distances herself from the conflict in her own life, giving herself the space to see her family situation more clearly.  It helps that her Aunt Jeanette is a (stereo)typical West-Coast free spirit, who gives her the physical and emotional freedom to work things out on her own.  In the end, the son of the bandonéon’s owner is reunited with his family heirloom, and Ellie is reunited—a stronger person—with her mother and father.  There’s a lot going on in this text, but the simple first-person narration will make the story accessible to readers who want an interesting story simply presented.  I am a bit surprised that this title is not part of the Orca Soundings series, which presents “teen novels for reluctant readers,” as the combination of narrative style and content work well for this demographic.

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