The setting for Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Hackl is a ghost town smack dab in the middle of Mississippi with bodock* tours and a personal library collection featuring Mississippi writer Willie Morris’s book North Toward Home. Even before I read the author’s notes, one of the unusual characters called up a familiar image of famed Mississippi native artist Walter Anderson
The first line promises a good read. “Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store.”
Three events in rapid succession – the death of Cricket’s grandmother, the disappearance of her mother, and the death of her father – send her on the trail of a mysterious bird room her mother described. She believes that finding it is the secret to having her mother return to stay. Survival in nature, unexplained clues, and an inscrutable riddle keep her looking, sustained by the hope that her mother will keep two promises she made before she disappeared. Cricket has eleven days before her mother’s promised return while her only help in the wild comes from her cricket, a strange hermit woman she calls Miss V., and a poetry loving dog. I liked Cricket’s perception when she sees Miss V.’s progress as they dig together. “It’s downright embarrassing to get outworked by somebody six times your age. I guess you can’t always tell strong from the outside.”
I read this delightful middle grade novel that has its book birthday tomorrow on July 10 in an advance reading copy from Net Galley. Not to give too much away, I can tell you the promise of a good read in its first line is more trustworthy than the ones Cricket’s mama made. Mississippians will find themselves right at home in this story, and if you’re not from here, you will get a delightful and accurate depiction.
*Also if you’re not from here, the bodock is also known as the osage orange and is sometimes characterized as a tree and sometimes as a shrub.