Earth’s environmental degradation and the need to curb unchecked deterioration are the focal points of Joyce L. Miller’s mystical middle-grade novel.
The story features 12-1/2-year-old Pearline Jayne “PJ” Proffitt, who lives in Denver with her parents and six-year-old brother, Philip. Her parents work for Awake, an environmental group that faces severe retribution from malicious industrial climate polluters.
Strange goings on surround the family: Its activities are monitored by two men in a black Lexus and an undercover security officer. Then Philip is attacked and left unconscious, and PJ is nearly overtaken by a man with a chloroform-dampened handkerchief. While it’s assumed that Awake’s detractors are responsible, the narrative is ambiguous, and the story moves on.
Winnow, PJ’s quirky neighbor, creates drawings that give PJ goosebumps — especially her portraits of children. Winnow divulges that she experiences dream journeys and a magical element guides her hand, bringing to life the children in the drawings. In one dream, she confers with a shaman who tells her that only the “children of the Earth” can “save our world.”… [You] will be given the means to help these children.…’”
Earlier PJ had received a cryptic letter that similarly urged her to “save our world.” She soon learns from a shaman in her own dream that she’s been chosen to defeat an “evil power” that threatens to destroy Earth, and with Winnow’s guidance, hopes to help ameliorate humankind’s environmental impact on Earth.
The novel’s prose is skilled and evocative, and PJ’s sensitivities, especially, feel genuine. The story’s encouragement of environmental stewardship is admirable, with the consequences of ecological damage described in intermittent, stand-alone chapter endings.
The book, however, also includes some extraneous characters, including a homeless man who’s inexplicably helped by one of the Lexus drivers. Additionally, middle-grade readers may have difficulty discerning the finer points of some plotlines, such as that concerning PJ’s Native American ancestry, which dominates her dream journeys and quest for deliverance. And a dearth of foundational scenes strains the narrative’s magical realism conclusion.
Still, PJ is likable and determined, and young readers will likely overlook any narrative missteps to follow her engaging adventure.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.