Summary: Center of Gravity
In Center of Gravity, Tessa has become more anxious after losing her mother to breast cancer. This middle-grade novel is set in 1985, which I guess would make it historical fiction. To soothe her anxiety, Tessa cuts pictures of missing kids out of milk cartons. For her, it is crucial that every next milk carton bear the face of a child not already in her collection. So, at lunch, she has to take time sifting through milk cartons to find a new face.
Tessa’s new compulsion is alienating her from her childhood best friend, who is embarrassed by Tessa’s odd decision to take her milk carton home after school. Things get worse when Tessa’s father comes home one day with a new woman, Lila. Lila is in her early twenties and pregnant with Tessa’s father’s child. The two marry quickly and move to Lila’s childhood home — gifted to them by her parents — in California. Understandably, Tessa is shaken, but things start to take a turn for the better when she meets a group of boys who play foosball at the rec center.
There’s a lot happening in this novel. Tessa has anxiety and a form of OCD precipitated by her grief and need for comfort. She recognizes that her behavior is odd and really wants to stop collecting milk cartons, but can’t. Also, it’s 1985 and not many people think of mental health issues the way we do now. Her father has also disappointed her by dating and marrying a girl young enough to be her sister less than a year after her mother’s death. Then she has friend issues — leaving a friend who didn’t quite want to hang out with her anymore (but whom she still loved) and becoming friends with a bunch of boys. Yet, all of these issues fit perfectly into the plot of this novel.
I loved the way the author handled Tessa’s grief. It’s not clean, easy grieving which is valid too, but Tessa lingers in her grief, she struggles to cope, and I think that can be a powerful way of showing readers that it’s okay to take a while to grieve. I also enjoyed the progression of Tessa’s relationship with her father. Despite the anger, she loves him and she forgives him. For his part, he apologizes for the difficult situation his actions have placed Tessa in. Most importantly, though, he never lies to her.
A central part of this story is Tessa’s friendships with the boys, their foosball games, and how they help Tessa learn what true friendship means. That’s all I can say without spoiling the story! Lila’s character was also interesting, and it was nice to see how she and Tessa moved forward in their relationship. Finally, despite being set in the ’80s, this book reads like any contemporary novel. I guess besides the milk cartons, post cards, and landlines.
Overall: Center of Gravity
Shaunta Grimes’ Center of Gravity is realistic, moving, and inspiring. This fast-paced middle-grade novel highlights a young girl’s struggle to deal with her mother’s death while adjusting to a newly blended family with a new stepmother and step-sibling on the way. If you enjoy middle-grade books about blended families, children dealing with death and grief or ones about friendships, you’ll enjoy this one. Honestly, it deserves better ratings than it currently has on Goodreads! I would definitely recommend it.
Buy This Book
More Book About Parental Death & Blended Families
- Things You Can’t Say by Jenn Bishop (Parental Suicide)
- The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Parental Death)
- Not If I Can Help It by Carolyn Mackler (Sensory Processing Disorder & Blended Family)
Have you read this book or any other book by Shaunta Grimes? How do you feel about middle-grade historical fiction? I always learn something about the past from them. What are your favorite middle-grade historical fiction books? I recommended over 30 of my favorites in this post. Feel free to check them out.