Title: The Parker Inheritance
Author: Varian Johnson
Genre: Middle Grade
Publisher: ARTHUR A LEVINE / SCHOLASTIC,
Publication date: March 2018
Hardcover: 331 pages
The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It’s waiting for Candice Miller.
When Candice finds the letter, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.
So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the summer ends?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: bought
Format (e- or p-): audiobook
I’ve had Varian Johnson’s Middle Grade novel The Parker Inheritance on my TBR since last year – it was a buzzed book that received a lot of praise from major review outlets as well as some of my go-to reviewers and twitterers. But, due to unforeseen personal circumstances and like many other books in 2018, it sat languishing on my TBR until now.
When a couple of weeks ago, it was rewarded both as a 2019 Odyssey Audiobook Honor and a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Book at the ALA conference, I knew it was finally time. I listened to the audiobook – and what a journey that was.
Candice Miller’s parents just got divorced and her mother decides they should leave Atlanta and spend the summer in the small town of Lambert, South Carolina at Candice’s late grandmother’s house. One day, Candice finds a letter in the attic, a letter addressed to her grandmother that speaks of a great injustice committed in Lambert’s past and which promises untold riches to the city if only those reading the letter can solve a puzzle. It is then revealed to Candice the truth about her grandmother’s departure from Lambert: when trying to solve the puzzle, she disgraced herself and had to leave town, her reputation as the city’s first African-American city manager in tatters.
Now, Candice is determined to restore her beloved Grandmother’s reputation and to solve the puzzle, as difficult as it is. With the help of her new neighbour Brandon, a young boy who is being bullied at school and is as much of a bookwork as she is. Together, they begin the decipher the clues of the letter.
The Parker Inheritance is a rich, multi-layered book that engages with the historical past as well as the present of African American lives in the South of the US. It also happens to be a fun book with a puzzle at its centre and with a focus on the friendship between two kids. The novel goes back and forth between the harrowing past (with the many characters surrounding the mystery at its core) and the present, with Candice and Brandon’s running against the clock to solve the puzzle.
With a plot that pays homage to The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and engages in text with both its strengths and shortcomings, The Parker Inheritance goes above and beyond its puzzle-solving storyline. In fact, in my many ways the treasure is the journey itself, not the X at the end of the map.
Without pulling any punches, Varian Johnson allows his main characters to engage full on with the horrors of the past, with the injustices suffered by members of the African-American community in Lambert in the past (and primarily in the late 50s). As you can imagine, the flashbacks in the past were not easy to read – nor should they be. The author also never fails to address the racism and other forms of discrimination happening right now in the US, with a story that also touches on bullying, police brutality, homophobia, the act of passing, forgotten heroes and more.
This is a beautiful story in many ways. It looks at inheritance and legacy, at community and families, at the difference between justice and revenge, at hope and forgiveness and at how people have found different ways to survive and how even good people are fallible. It asks questions that are not easy to answer but it also never fails to surprise, to engage and to make us care for its cast of characters, past and present. Candice and Brandon’s friendship flourishes and grow in a truly touching way. Because of all of this, this book reminded me so much of Rita Williams-Garcia excellent Gaither Sisters series (starting with One Crazy Summer) and that perhaps, it’s a closest, truest comparison than The Westing Game, in my opinion.
Rating: 8 – Excellent