Recommended for ages 8-12
Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto is half Japanese, half Italian, and things are not molto bene (very good) for her at the moment. She thinks her name is ridiculous; she’s managed to put herself in the sights of a bully at school; she’s doing her best to take care of her little sister, Bella, who really feels the absence of a dad in their lives, and she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.
Her dad left when she was six and Bella was one, and he hasn’t even tried to get in touch. She feels like a whole half of herself is missing: she knows nothing about her Japanese side, but she doesn’t look like her Italian mother. And to top things off, she’s been trying to keep up a charade for Bella’s benefit, writing letters to her as their father, explaining why he’s not able to come home in time for her birthday party.
It’s such a relief to find realistic fiction that looks at big ticket items with sensitivity and humor. Amber tackles some tough questions and issues that middle graders face, and she does it with Judy Blume-esque humor, with a touch of Dork Diaries/Diary of a Wimpy Kid slapstick. The book is told in the first person, from Amber’s point of view, complete with illustrations and chapters headed by numbers in English, Italian, and Japanese.
True to life, there are no easy answers waiting for Amber, but she makes some big moves and grows up during the course of the novel. I loved this book and how it uses humor to take the sting out stressful situations facing kids these days. I’d love to read more of Amber’s adventures in the future – I hope we get some!