What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb is one of those books that's been on my TBR list for a long time but which I wasn't really excited about. To be honest, though it was receiving rave reviews, it didn't seem like something that felt terribly relevant to me, probably because the cover just didn't draw me in. All that white space, I think, and the cutesy fox taking a nap in the O of "Fox". Adorable, but maybe a little too much so.
But with all the heavy-duty reading I've been doing for school of late, I felt like I needed something frothy and light. Enter Fox Street -- but frothy and light? Try substantive and thought-provoking.
Mo Wren's lived on Fox Street her whole life, with her father and her crazy little sister Dottie. Mo knows everything about everyone on Fox Street, and she can't imagine ever living anywhere else, because whatever she needs is all around her. Most of all, the neighbors on Fox Street have looked after Mo and Dottie since their mother died, particularly Da, the persnickety former school teacher whose red beans and rice are Mo's favorite food. Da's granddaughter Mercedes is Mo's best friend, and she spends every summer on Fox Street.
The whole thing is pretty idyllic, really. But this summer things in Mo's world are starting to unravel. First Mercedes shows up with fancy new clothes and an attitude to match, telling Mo that this will be her last summer visit. And then there's the strange behavior of cranky old Mrs. Steinbott -- Starchbutt to the Fox Street kids. Is she really having a change of heart? Then Mo's dad gets a mysterious letter in the mail, and suddenly he's making plans -- plans that Mo fears will take the family away from Fox Street for good.
So my initial assessment of Fox Street was basically dead wrong. Here's a book that's anything but frothy, about a character who is spirited, determined and deeply introspective. Mo Wren is one of those girls who sticks with you, as devoted to her family and friends as she is frustrated by them and determined to always do the right thing. Mercedes is far more than a sidekick, but a fully developed character in her own right, struggling to integrate her new stepfather into a place in her life where only a hole had been. And Dottie -- oh, Dottie! A little bit of Dottie goes a very long way, which is a good thing. Just when you count her out as nothing more than the "wild child", Dottie does something to stir everything up again. I'd love to see more of Dottie in later books about the Wren family; I have a feeling she, like many other literary little sisters, is in for some fascinating adventures of her own.
And here's a lesson in not judging a book, literally. Though the cover art features a decidedly Caucasian Mo, there's a great multiracial storyline in here that decidedly increases the appeal to children of color. Mercedes is biracial, but she's never known anything about her father except that he is white. Without giving away any plot spoilers, suffice to say that this becomes a major subplot of the book, and one that is handled brilliantly by Springstubb. Though the resolution comes a little too neatly, this is a minor point in an otherwise engaging and realistic story thread.
Sample quote: "Climbing down the hill, she took her time, making as little noise as she could, her eyes peeled. Fox Street had gotten its name for a reason, and sometimes, especially toward dusck, the air took on a mysterious, deep red texture. At those moments, Mo felt a beautiful pair of amber-colored eyes watching her. She'd sense a rust-colored tail, tip dipped in cream, disappearing just behind her. But no matter how quickly she turned, Mo never saw anything."