During the summer after seventh grade, Mia Barnes and her parents move from Boston to Vermont to be near her Gram, a retired entomology professor who is recovering from a stroke and running her own business, Green Mountain Cricket Farm. After a series of alarming mishaps, Mia becomes convinced that someone is trying to sabotage the farm, so she and some new friends decide to track down the culprit. Fascinating details about cricket farming (think Thai cricket pizza and chocolate chirp cookies) dovetail nicely with Mia’s mystery, which grows increasingly urgent as it threatens to destroy Gram’s beloved enterprise.
Chirp, Kate Messner’s latest middle grade novel, is a delightful hodgepodge of a book. It’s expertly organized and seamlessly pulls together a variety of intriguing themes in a truly organic way. Mia, like Gram, is also recovering, having badly broken her arm during a gymnastics competition. And she’s nursing an even more invasive, invisible wound that she hasn’t told anyone about: Phil, one of her gymnastic coaches, touched her inappropriately on several occasions, repeatedly holding her too close and too long, as well as texting her to ask for a photo. This disturbing experience has robbed Mia of her confidence and forced her into the habit of trying to remain invisible. Even though Phil is no longer a threat, she realizes, “Once you got in the habit of being small, it was hard to feel safe being your normal size anymore.”
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Chirp author Kate Messner.
At her parents’ insistence, Mia enrolls in two summer camps, one for her body (a ninja warrior-style camp) and one for her brain (a young entrepreneurs program). Warrior Camp helps Mia regain her mental confidence and physical strength, while Launch Camp gives Mia innovative ideas about how to make Gram’s cricket farm a success. In Messner’s skilled hands, even business camp becomes exciting, and her sensitive, subtle prose beautifully captures Mia’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
For readers who haven’t experienced anything like what Phil does to Mia, Chirp is an excellent introduction to the difficult but necessary subject, and to the warning signs that are sometimes present. For readers who can personally relate to Mia’s experience, Chirp could well be a lifesaver. Mia eventually finds the courage to tell an understanding adult about her trauma; soon after, she also informs her mother about Phil’s behavior, which launches an investigation. Chockfull of strong female role models, Chirp is a riveting middle grade novel of empowerment that deftly tackles a delicate, imperative subject. Crickets may chirp, but readers will be ready to roar.