September 18, 2014

Finding Ruby Starling


by Karen Rivers
Alfred A. Levine Books/Scholastic
978-0-545-53479-6
304 pp.
Ages 10-14
August, 2014
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Karen River’s latest book for young readers is a successful take on a Parent Trap-type plot, albeit with the benefits of modern technology and perhaps a friendly spirit. 

While goofing around online with a face-matching app called FaceTrace, 12-year-old Ruth Quayle, adopted daughter of a heart surgeon and a scientist, discovers a British look-alike in trendier clothes named Ruby Starling. Through a series of Tumblr posts, emails with her best, talking to her parents, and contacting Ruby, Ruth determines that she and the other girl are identical twins who somehow became separated.
“I feel like half of me has just been peeled away, like a decal being pulled off its back sticky bit, making me just the waxy papery rubbish left behind.” (pg. 11)
Unconvinced about Ruth’s theory, Ruby reaches out to her friends for advice, though she knows that only her mother – a busy artist distracted by her work – and her deceased grandmother could tell her the truth.  Finding the need to talk to grandmother, Ruby writes letters (obviously never sent) to air her thoughts.  When a painting by Ruby’s mother of her as a baby with a shadow baby in the background falls off the wall, Ruby becomes convinced that her Nan has sent her a message from beyond the grave indicating that Ruby and Ruth are indeed twins.

By using only emails, letters, and Tumblr posts for Ruth and Ruby to communicate their secrets, concerns and questions, Karen Rivers’ ensures that the girls’ youthful voices are always maintained.  And, though the twins have bigger issues with which to deal, including fear, abandonment and grief, Karen Rivers embeds those issues seamlessly within natural interactions with family and friends, adding quirky teachings from a Buddhist calendar, occasional ghostly messages and some boyfriend-girlfriend drama to help keep the heavy issues from detracting from the story’s feelgood nature.

Karen Rivers’ story of long-lost twins could have easily followed a typical, comedic path. But by showing how the lives of Ruth and Ruby are enriched by the discovery of each other, the author has created a more complex narrative that explores themes of family and friendship.



(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2014, October). [Review of the book Finding Ruby Starling, by Karen Rivers]. Quill & Quire, 80 (8): 38.

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