The Great Treehouse War
Philomel/Penguin, 2017 284 pages
Winnie's world is rocked when her parents not only decide to get a divorce, but chose not to play nice. She must split her time evenly between her parents houses, spending Wednesday, the odd day, alone in a tree house right in the middle of the two properties. It turns out that the treehouse is the former site of an embassy and is technically not part of the Unites States or under its jurisdiction. When Winnie get fed-up with the constant pushing and pulling of her parents, she permanently moves into the treehouse, where they cannot legally make her come down. Her classroom companions follow suit and join her, each with their own demands. Some demands are trite, such as unlimited screen time, and the kids seem more interested in the adventure of the treehouse than the demands. Winnie holds tightly to her cause and even after the others give in, she stays firm in her convictions. The media gets hold of the protest and a circus develops with parents trying all kinds of crazy tactics to retrieve their children. Messages are sent via rope and pail and a zip-line allows for transportation in and out of the treehouse when necessary. An injury necessitates the exit of the first kids to leave and the remaining children start to get on each other's nerves. Winnie, sensing that her friends have had enough, devises a plan that allows them to go back home without admitting defeat. This leaves Winnie alone, until one of her friends comes up with a secret plan to help her. Book's end sees Winnie reunited with her parents and, although the ending isn't perfectly "happily ever after", the relationship is more mutual and they are attempting to take her feelings into consideration over their own power struggles.
Lisa Graff has previously written fantastic realism or somewhat intensely powerful realistic fiction for middle grades. She has now channeled her lighter side, turning to a lighter realistic fiction infused with humor and employing an unconventional format to find a new audience. This is a seemingly frothy story that disguises some underlining issues, such as parents not putting their children's needs before their own and kids feeling powerless in their lives and relationships. Winnie has a helpful uncle, who proves to be a stable grown-up and helps her out, so all of the adults in the book, thankfully, aren't incompetent. The cast of children characters is vast and diverse. They can get confusing, but Graff helpfully offers an illustrated key at the beginning of the book and they all have distinct, if not a bit overblown, characteristics. The story is an end-of-year project, primarily written by Winnie, in order to pass fifth grade, since they missed so much school while living in the treehouse, and wish to continue on to middle school. The other students write comments on post-its spread throughout the book. Other narrative devices include e-mails, transcripts, drawings, texts, charts, and maps. The unconventional format will draw-in readers. Because of all of the bonus material, the book reads quickly and will hold reader's interest. Just the concept of living in a treehouse alone will attract kids. I know I always wanted to live in a treehouse (still do, as long as it has heat). Graff's writing is usually lyrical, precise, and thoughtful. This is not that kind of a book, so don't be expecting that. Nevertheless, it is competently constructed and will satisfy most readers, especially those of a reluctant nature.