When life gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade. Lemonade Liberty Witt used to take pride in living up to the saying she was named after, but these days she’s afraid that she’ll never find happiness again.
In the wake of her mother’s death she’s been forced to leave her home in cosmopolitan San Francisco and live with her estranged grandfather, Charlie, in a small town with a big obsession.
It’s 1975 and Willow Creek is the Bigfoot capital of America. Charlie runs a Bigfoot themed souvenir store and Lemonade’s socially awkward new neighbour, Tobin, is the founder and president of Bigfoot Detectives Inc. While Lemonade is understandably skeptical about the reported Bigfoot sightings in the woods surrounding the town, Tobin makes her his Assistant Detective and draws her into his search for cryptozoological glory. If they’re going to find proof that the elusive creatures exist then Lemonade will need to rediscover her belief in the power of optimism.
There’s always a danger that recent period settings can feel schlocky, as if viewed through a nostalgia-tinted desire for the ‘good old days’. Luckily Savage has crafted a thoroughly believable world, full of 70’s slang, Twinkies, and Judy Blume books, but also marked by the effects of the Vietnam War. The local kids might play outside all day, but they also bully each other and get grounded for breaking curfew.
The retro vibe is actually most prominently felt in the book’s structure, which eschews urgent, heavy plotting for a slower paced series of small-scale adventures, in which Lemonade is as much reacting to life’s ordinary twists and turns as she is driving the action herself. Some children who are more used to modern pacing might struggle to adjust, but many will find the change refreshing, and the short chapters, restrained language, and wry humour will ensure that even reluctant readers are brought along on Lemonade’s emotional journey.
“The retro vibe is actually most prominently felt in the book’s structure, which eschews urgent, heavy plotting for a slower paced series of small-scale adventures …”
It’s great fun to watch Lemonade and Tobin spend their summer working and bickering together. Between arguments about punctuality and lectures about the texture of Bigfoot droppings, they help each other heal from the tragic losses that they’ve both experienced, as well as the more mundane but still difficult pains of growing up. The friendship between these two outsiders is beautifully developed, as is the growing bond between Lemonade and Charlie.
We get only hints of the events that drove Lemonade’s mother to move to the city and cut her father out of her life. It could have been interesting to explore this further, and to see more conflict over Lemonade’s temptation to fill the gap her mother left behind in the Willow Creek community, instead of carving out her own unique identity. Ultimately, however, Lemonade and Charlie’s decision to let grief bring them closer together instead of driving them apart is convincing and inspiring, and we can trust that Lemonade is strong enough to continue to work through her issues, even after our time with her had ended.
A moving, generous book that succeeds in balancing the sweet with the tart. Particularly recommended for fans of Deirdre Sullivan’s equally endearing Prim Improper.