“I loved my dad’s tattoos―they told the story of his life,” writes eighth-grader Stevie (named after Stevie Nicks), narrator of Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel. She adds, “Tattoos covered most of his upper body from his neck down to his belly button. He said he’d eventually make it to his toes but he still had a lot of living to do.”
Sadly, her father doesn’t get that chance. And, as it turns out, there’s quite a lot that Stevie doesn’t know about his life, or her mother’s, for that matter. Settle in for the latest offering by National Book Award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt (When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, Dear Hank Williams); you’ll be in good hands as mysteries, as well as people, reveal themselves.
Stevie’s world―on a small farm near Taos, New Mexico, where her parents have a fruit and flower stand―is shattered when a drunk driver crashes into the stand and kills her parents. She’s sent to live with her estranged, crusty grandfather, Winston, who runs a ramshackle motel in a small Texas town. As they subsist on cans of Campbell’s soup, Winston can’t seem to look Stevie in the eye nor stand to mention her parents.
Thankfully, a host of kind people welcome Stevie, including a handyman and his eighth-grade son Roy; a classic movie fanatic receptionist named Violet; and Horace and Ida, a wheelchair-bound couple who live at the motel. Winston sends Stevie to be home-schooled with Mrs. Crump, an elderly narcoleptic who once taught her mother. As always, Holt adeptly turns her quirky characters into a multidimensional, believable cast.
As with previous novels, Holt sensitively portrays a teen attempting to navigate the world without parents. Carrying on with the gardening skills learned from her parents, Stevie gradually starts building a new life and trying to get to know her grandfather, while secretly working hard to unravel the mysteries of her parents’ past. Stevie’s story begins with tragedy, but Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel remains firmly rooted in hope and perseverance. As Stevie concludes, “Even if life doesn’t turn out exactly like we thought it would, it can still be wonderful.”