One summer two boys and a girl went to a foster home to live together. With strong character voices and a truckload of pithy one-liners, Newbery Award winner Betsy Byars’ The Pinballs tackles heavy topics including neglect, abuse, and loss with a deft hand and wry humour that will strike a chord with readers. Originally published in 1977 as a contemporary novel, the timelessness of The Pinballs’ themes ring true even today.
The strength of The Pinballs begins with its characters. The dialogue alone is zippy and entertaining, and that focus draws attention when characters act contrary to their speech, creating a set of complex characters. With a sympathetic touch that rarely becomes too heavy-handed, The Pinballs weaves in the difficult home life of each character — touching on parental neglect, physical abuse, death of a guardian and subsequent grief — in language that is light-hearted without glossing over reality.
Carlie’s, Harvey’s, and Thomas J.’s individual emotional journeys over the course of the narrative is a masterclass of the writing adage ‘show, don’t tell’, giving each character the space to react to events of the story that ring true to life. Where each character begins the book preoccupied by the past and the temporary present of the Masons’ foster home, the end of their journey sees each child supporting one another, all looking optimistically to the future.
Complete at 138 pages, this literary gem packs an emotional punch that will resonate with adults as well as children. Recommended for readers aged 9 and above.
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