Nora’s whole world plummets faster than the Cyclone roller coaster when her cousin Riley falls into a coma that Nora thinks is her fault in this warm, big-hearted debut middle grade novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author, Doreen Cronin.
Riding the Cyclone, the world famous Coney Island rollercoaster, was supposed to be the highlight of Nora’s summer. But right after they disembark, Nora’s cousin Riley falls to the ground…and doesn’t get up. Nora had begged and dragged Riley onto the ride, and no matter what the doctors say, that she had a heart condition, that it could have happened at any time, Nora knows it was her fault. Then, as Riley comes out of her coma, she’s not really Riley at all. The cousin who used to be loud and funny and unafraid now can’t talk, let alone go to the bathroom by herself. No, she’s only 10% Riley. Nora, guilt eating her up on the inside worse than a Coney Island hotdog, thinks she knows how to help. How to get 100% Riley back. But what Nora doesn’t realize is that the guilt will only get worse as that percentage rises.
Cronin, famous for solving cow communication problems with a typewriter in Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (2000) and sequels, offers her debut middle-grade novel illuminating human communication problems. Nora, 12, blackmails her cousin Riley, 13, into riding with her on the Cyclone, the Coney Island amusement park’s legendary roller coaster—and as soon as Riley steps off, she collapses from a stroke and is hospitalized, partially paralyzed and nearly unable to speak. In the waiting room, Nora meets Jack, a caring young teen, who says his younger brother is in the ICU with leukemia—although, sadly, he’s not telling the full story. Riley’s hospital stay drags on, including ample medical detail, and Nora’s and Riley’s mothers’ other sister arrives, ballooning the already-substantial tension. As Riley begins to talk a bit, most of her words are, astonishingly, in Spanish, dredged up from her middle school language lessons; only her Latina roommate, Sophia, is able to understand her. (Sophia and some hospital staff aside, the characters all appear to be white.) It’s only time, learning to listen, and a bit of emerging maturity that help Nora resolve these many communication problems, discovering poignant, hidden-in-plain-sight truths along the way. Her honest first-person (and thoroughly footnoted) voice believably moves from defensive and guilt-ridden to perceptive and empathetic as her understanding grows. A sensitive exploration of the high costs of failing to really connect with those around us. (Fiction. 10-14)