Stories of orphans making it on their own and finding family are a staple of children’s literature, and Newbery Honor author Polly Horvath’s Pine Island Home has an old-fashioned feel. It’s a comforting coming-of-age tale about four sisters whose missionary parents are killed in a tsunami. Their great-aunt Martha agrees to take them in, but when Fiona and her younger sisters, Marlin, Natasha and Charlie, arrive on Pine Island, they discover Martha has just died.
The sisters move into her house anyway. Determined to keep her family together, Fiona negotiates with Al, the eccentric and often inebriated writer who lives on the property adjacent to Martha’s. He agrees to pretend to be their guardian in exchange for beer money and dinners cooked by budding chef Marlin.
Horvath (One Year in Coal Harbor, The Night Garden) is a master at creating winning characters, and each sister emerges as a distinct individual. In particular, Fiona is a study in resilience, shouldering the burden of financial responsibility and the insistent emails from their great-aunt’s attorney. The girls’ efforts at self-sufficiency are appealing, as are the cast of townsfolk and the bucolic setting, as the sisters discover that families can be created in surprising ways.