Macmillan Children's Books
Zinnia is a thirteen-year-old girl in a family of seven children. Her cousin, who was the same age as her and who she thought of as a sister, died when they were only four years old and now her incredible Aunt Jessie has died, too. Zinny has always been closer to her aunt and uncle than her own parents and now she finds solace in the trail starting in her backyard. She makes it a personal mission to clear the trail by the end of the summer, a project that is complicated both by the length of the trail and the fact that her family doesn't think she'll be able to accomplish it. But for Zinny, this is more than just a project -- finding and clearing the trail feels essential for some reason and she is determined to succeed.
Creech has a knack for spirited, adventurous heroines, and Zinny is no exception. She takes on the project of clearing the trail wholeheartedly, hiking miles there and back in order to work on it. And while this part of the story is incredibly transportive and imaginative, the real heart lies in Zinny's complicated emotions regarding her self, her family, and the older boy who keeps giving her gifts. The portrayal of a large family and one child who feels left out is done so incredibly well, most notably in the moments where, noting Zinny standing up for what she wants more often, the people around her ask, "aren't you supposed to be the quiet one?" Zinny's journey from quiet, unassuming younger sister to confident and adventurous explorer is an unlikely and welcome story.
The farm Zinny lives on, along with her large family, makes for a quirky and almost timeless setting. Though this book was published in the 90s and there are references to computers in the novel, many of the references and language are a quite a bit older. Instead of being alienating, this gives the story a timeless sort of feeling that works so much better in middle grade than, I think, probably any other genre. In fact, this book is the best sort of middle grade novel -- a tale of growing up and discovering yourself, with a nice bit of adventure as well. Definitely recommended for middle grade readers of all ages.