What Friends Are For: Jenny Rabe’s “Playground Treasures”

It’s very rare that I get to see a book come together throughout the process.  Admittedly, it took me 13 drafts (most of them proofreads before approving the book or deciding on an ending) to publish mine, but if I get to read an unpublished manuscript, it’s usually about to be sent to press.

Enter Jenny.  She had let me proofread an anthology a little while ago and complimented my ability to catch things that some others didn’t.  Flattered, I said yes when she asked me to proofread her Middle Grade novel.

I liked it a lot in those earlier stages and was glad when she felt comfortable asking me to help her brainstorm ideas on my substantive edit side of things.  I was never offended when she wanted to bounce a revised sentence off of me because I was quite fond of the book.  As I was leaving my volunteer job, today, she sent me a document to proof-read that was a lot shorter, but made me happy:  The schedule for her launch party.  I was so happy to go to her online book launch, so am going to give you my review from the perspective of how I saw it with a few delving-behind-the-scenes moments to clarify.

Playground Treasures is the story of two children on opposite ends of the caring spectrum.  We have Kendall, who accepts abuse from his adoptive parents because it will protect his foster brother.  On the other hand, we have Lorelei, whose greatest trauma seems to be her brothers’ propensity for making her do their chores.

In the middle of this polarized scenario, we have an additional issue:  Kendall reaches a breaking point and runs away from home.  Not only does he spend the bulk of the book trying to live in a sewer pipe, but he struggles to evade recapture by the Jaspers, his foster family.  He also is trying to find a family feeling with his new friend, Lorelei.

Both protagonists are delightfully realistic.  They think like pre-teens in spite of sometimes extraordinary circumstances.  Their internal monologues align with that as well and, quite frankly, you can tell that the author is a schoolteacher because she just gets the mind of someone that age.

What impressed me most from the first draft that I saw to the finished product is the subject matter.  I have seen a lot of authors ride the almost-comedic coattails of Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4 Privet Drive.  The antagonists are exaggerated and unrealistic because then the reader will get it when the really good people come along.  Frankly, I get tired of people having so little faith in their audience, so I love that the antagonists in this were more than one-dimensional tropes.

Moving on from the psychos, though, in one conversation, Jenny commented that she wondered whether she should “kidify” the darker parts of the book.  I remembered the level of how it was depicted and personally believed that it was a very effective way of communicating the fundamental signs of a problematic family situation and ways in which ta person can resist without actually fighting  I remembered E.T., where I found the arrival of the government traumatic and tragic, but as an adult, I recognized the desperate effort the adults were doing in an untenable situation.  I feel like this book is something that children can read and draw lessons from, while it can open up avenues of discussion for parents to discuss such topics as bullying, compassion, trust and friendship with their children.

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