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BookBrowse Reviews Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki

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Saving Montgomery Sole

by Mariko Tamaki

Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki X
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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A beautiful and offbeat novel from Mariko Tamaki, co-creator of the bestselling Printz Honor and Caldecott Honor Book This One Summer.

Understanding identity is one the most important parts of adolescence. For some teenagers, those who fit into the societal mold of normalcy, the realization usually occurs early and without too much difficulty. However, for others, the process of finding one's self is an almost nightmarish experience. Montgomery "Monty" Sole, the protagonist of Mariko Tamaki's eccentric but moving YA novel Saving Montgomery Sole, has a difficult time finding – and understanding – her place in the world.

When we meet Monty, a young teen living in a fictional small town in California, she is recalling a story from elementary school about a classmate mocking her for being smarter than the other kids. Monty knows that there are multiple moons in the universe, but her peers believe there is only one. Monty lets out an exasperated "duh" to correct her classmates, and receives a "time-out" in return. From the beginning, Tamaki's protagonist is someone who is different.

As Saving Montgomery Sole unfolds, it becomes clear that Monty is a perpetual outcast who is trying to find her way in an often too conforming world. At school, she cares more about uncovering hidden secrets related to sorcery and enchanted objects than about connecting with others around her. She says of herself: "I've always been, like, this inexplicable thing, a mystery object that's not like anyone else at this school. I guess it's possible that that's part of why I'm so obsessed with other inexplicable things. With other unsolved mysteries." And obsessed she is. She becomes so interested in mysticism that she purchases a crystal amulet referred to as the Eye of Know. This rock, she believes, gives her the power to see and understand more of the world around her. It also (possibly) gives her the ability to change things.

Monty, along with her only two friends, Thomas and Naoki, participate in the Mystery Club at Jefferson High, which focuses on examining "unexplained phenomena, curiosities, and other subjects the members consider to be interesting." For Monty, these meetings are her chance to fit in with others who are like her. It is her one safe zone from outside mockery.

At home, Monty also struggles with differences. She has two moms, Mama Kate and Momma Jo. Her family is loving and wonderful, but some of her narrow-minded classmates have a hard time accepting Monty's family's unconventional structure. One constantly rude peer says to Monty, "My mom said you'll never understand the difference between right and wrong, because you come from a broken family." The girl continues, "So, I should feel sorry for you." Monty's younger sister, Tesla, experiments with religion, and Monty sees this interest as particularly disturbing because Monty assumes that all religious people are bigoted toward her lesbian mothers. A subplot about religion and bigotry is a nice parallel that plays out when a new student arrives at Jefferson High, adding an extra layer of depth to Tamaki's novel about striving to find a footing in the world.

More conservative readers might find sections of Tamaki's novel difficult to digest. While it never falls into the trap of becoming too preachy or too offensive, Saving Montgomery Sole does openly explore various perceptions of sexuality and religion. But there is a lot to admire here too. Tamaki captures the voice of a struggling young person so splendidly. Although some of Monty's remarks made me cringe, I couldn't help but to root for her as she strives to solve all of the big mysteries in her world. The story overflows with feeling and passion.

Saving Montgomery Sole is a smart and moving novel that mature teens, especially those who see themselves as outsiders, will adore.

Reviewed by Bradley Sides

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2016, and has been updated for the April 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
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