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Books in Brief: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares; Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb


The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares; Delacorte Press, 293 pages ($18.99)

A list of players is required in the preface to sort out the complicated Thomas-Harrison  clan - divided by a very bitter divorce and subsequent remarriages - in this beautifully written novel from the author of the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" series.

Emma, Quinn and Mattie are Robert and Lila's three daughters. Sasha is Robert's 17-year-old daughter with his second wife, Ray is Lila's 17-year-old son with her second husband. Sasha and Ray share three half-sisters and alternate using the same bedroom in the family's sprawling old house on the Long Island shore - reading the same books, using the same boogie board, contributing to collections of beach treasures - but they have never met in person.

Although Lila and Robert constantly battle over the beach house - paying to clean the pool, mow the lawn, etc. - they stick to a meticulous schedule for sharing the house on weekends and in the summer so they never have to meet. The painful old wounds erupt when Emma's engagement party brings the whole family together, a spectacularly unhappy occasion that has tragic consequences.

The drama plays out against a New York backdrop, Robert and Evie's luxurious Manhattan apartment, the Long Island summer house, the family farm where the girls work, the grocery on Montauk Highway where Sasha and Ray share a job. While the Sasha-Ray connection is at the heart of the novel, Emma's love story and Mattie's shocking discovery about her past are engaging subplots. The most memorable creation in Brashare's portrait gallery is Quinn, the free spirit with a gift of connecting with others.


Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler; Candlewick Press, 167 pages ($14.99) Ages 7 to 10.

The irrepressible Cody - enthusiastic bug-lover, (sometimes) "trusty" friend, good kid who has trouble sitting still in school - returns for a third adventure in this chapter book perfect for young readers moving on from beginner books.

Cody is thrilled to go on her first sleepover at her best friend Pearl's house, until Pearl decides they should swap stuffed animals and ends up with Cody's beloved Gremlin.

Meanwhile, Cody's big brother Wyatt spends all his money to buy a fancy new Cobra bike, only to have it stolen almost immediately.

Springstubb creates a kind of magic in these books, with their gentle humor, realistic classroom settings and real empathy for kids struggling to figure out how to do the right thing. (Her description of Cody's rookie long-suffering teacher: "Mr. Daniels started every day with his shirt tucked in and his hair combed. By lunchtime his shirt hung out and a piece of hair at the back of his head stuck straight up like a little flagpole. It was fascinating.") She also offers a rare portrait of a loving family, dad a trucker, mom the head of the shoe department at a store.


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