May 23, 2023

Gnome is Where Your Heart Is

Written by Casey Lyall
Greenwillow Books (Imprint of HarperCollins)
304 pp.
Ages 8-12
May 2023

You believe in aliens, right? Lemon Peabody certainly does, and she's determined to prove that her Grandpa Walt was telling the truth when he claimed he'd met one named Gnemo over thirty years ago. In fact, she's so sure that she's making Project Validation her summer project, even if she must hide it from her father Patrick, a true non-believer, who was humiliated by his father's claims, especially when everyone in the town started putting out green-faced, red-capped garden gnomes. Now, Lemon's parents are insisting that she partake in a normal activity for the summer. So, she and her best friend Marlo join the Junior Forest Rangers because it offers her the opportunity to investigate the very woods where Grandpa famously met Gnemo and chatted with her.

Unbeknownst to Lemon, the Gnar Five, a ship of the Interplanetary Natural Archives Alliance is out on a mission when forced to land on the Isolated Community of IC 525-1 a.k.a. Earth, a planet with restricted access. As Chief Gneelix tries to repair their ship, Captain Gnemo, Commander Gnilsson, Doc Gnog, and Ensign Gnedley attempt to stay under cover of their shields and follow protocols. But the Captain can't inform HQ of their situation because their external comms are down. And though Ensign Gnedley knows he's supposed to follow the emergency measures handbook, he'd joined the Alliance to see the universe. After all, Commander Gnilsson was able to go out and investigate, even returning with a miniature gnome statue that he is convinced speaks to an encounter with the locals, strictly against protocols.  

As Lemon and Marlo and their new friend Rachel, a science fan, pursue the clues to find evidence of the aliens and maybe even meet one, thus vindicating Walt, Lemon knows time is running out. Her grandfather's Alzheimer's is slowing making him more forgetful and agitated, and Lemon would do anything to help him. But Gnedley has his own problems, knowing that he's been seen by the Humans and worried that Captain Gnemo may be hiding a secret. Can both alien and human help each other?
Casey Lyall has always given us a good mystery in her Howard Wallace P. I. middle-grade novels and humour in her picture books Inky's Great Escape and A Spoonful of Frogs but in Gnome is Where Your Heart Is she blends that humour with some sci-fi and a solid intergenerational relationship that warms the heart. Gnome is Where Your Heart Is feels like E.T. meets Cocoon meets Star Trek. There's a crew of interplanetary travellers, with a clever captain, a right-hand commander, an acerbic engineer, and an inexperienced ensign. There's a child trying to help their grandparent against their parents' wishes. And there's a trio of friends investigating alien activity. There's fun and wit and angst and resolution. Best of all, there's humour. From the cheeky Gneelix–who, when asked for more power, suggests "Should I get out and push?"–or the irritated Marlo–"Tell me why you broke into my room at rude o'clock in the morning"–there is honest but saucy humour. But could we expect anything less in a story with gnome-looking aliens, magic mushrooms, and scrummy marshmallows? I think not.

For middle-graders who enjoy speculative fiction firmly based in the reality of family and friends, albeit with a cloud of Alzheimer's, and told with humour, distinct characters–both human and not–and the buzz that comes with the unknown, Gnome is Where Your Heart Is checks all the boxes for a lively summer read.

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