Twelve-year-old BFFs want to be sisters. Tillie’s divorced mom plus Ginnie’s widowed dad could equal a lifetime of round-the-clock girl talk. Too bad Dad vowed to never marry again. Ginnie and Tillie come up with the perfect mission to change his mind: ‘Operation Secret Sisters.’
Before long, Ginnie suspects Tillie has turned ‘Operation Secret Sisters’ into a scam called ‘Operation Steal My Dad.’ Things get more complicated when Ginnie stumbles across her dead mom’s hidden journals. Ginnie can finally get to know the mother she doesn’t remember and Dad doesn’t talk about … until Dad takes the journals away.
***** Review ******
The Ginnie West Adventure series is definitely more than I bargained for! I don’t think I would have particularly enjoyed, let alone absorbed, all of the sentiments presented in these books at the age of a middle grades or young adult reader, especially the first in the series, The Secret Sisters Club.
The Secret Sisters Club – OSS for short (Operation: Secret Sisters) – is a plan hatched up by Ginnie West and her best friend Tillie. Ginnie lives on the West place with her twin brother, Toran, father Todd (or secretly called D.T. by Tillie), Uncle Jake and the patriarch of the family, great Uncle Ben.
“I forget sometimes that you aren’t their dad.”
Uncle Ben smiled. “Love is a wonderful thing like that. It doesn’t worry about who gave birth to who, just how much time and effort is invested in another person.”
The West family has strong ties in many ways, and the primary one is family. When Jake and Todd’s parents died many years before, Uncle Ben and his wife Sadie took them in as their own children and raised them as such. To this day, that bond – and most definitely that line of authority and respect – still stand. I absolutely adored Uncle Ben, and that feeling continued to be built on with the second book in the series.
“What twelve year-old doesn’t want a real party?”
The kind of twelver year-old who likes being invisible so people don’t ask you questions you don’t want to answer.
Tillie, and her mother Amanda, are like an extension of the West family, but Tillie distinctly feels the impact of not having a father…which is a guiding light behind OSS for her. She wants Todd to be her dad, which is why she calls him D.T. secretly…for Daddy Todd. Both Tillie and Amanda have felt the repercussions of an abusive relationship, and Tillie bears the scars of that more than Amanda, and it is almost juxtaposed next to Ginnie and Toran’s steady relationship with their own father.
Toran’s observations never ceased to amaze her. Toan didn’t talk much, but his brain worked constantly, watching and analyzing the world around him.
Ginnie can’t see anything beyond the fact that she wants a sister. Toran is a great brother, more than a great brother, but she wants more than that, so she has no qualms about going along with OSS….except every once in a while, she gets a churning sensation that Tillie wants to be her sister for another reason altogether…and she never imagined what her dad marry Miss Amanda might really mean.
This is a wonderful book that shows the love and history of a family, as well as bringing up those hard-to-describe (and certainly tougher to talk about!) feelings of blending or mixing families. Ginnie has a hard time coming to terms with the reality that Miss Amanda would become her stepmom if OSS worked. She’s a young girl still struggling with coming to grips with growing up without her own mother.
Ginnie lived for these moments lately. Off her horse, she could barely recall the mom she had lost nine years before in a tragic accident. But when she rode on horseback, she could be transported temporarily to the only memory she had of her mother, the two of them riding Eternal Love when Ginnie was three.
I completely understand Ginnie’s connection with riding her horse, Calliope, which is the offspring of her mother’s horse (Eternal Love). I really struggled after my grandmother died, only a year after losing my sister. When I would be upset or mad, I would lose myself in the pasture. Ten months later, my grandfather presented me with Red Lightning to ease the loss of my grandmother, and it was one of the best decisions and best relationships I’ve ever had. That horse knew exactly what I needed, and how to respond to me. He had to buck the system – and me – a couple of times, but we got that straightened out. 😉 There is nothing like the bond between a girl and her horse, and it is something Ginnie very much relies on. Calliope is her go-to when she is upset.
Tillie and Ginnie are busy throughout the book orchestrating OSS and getting their parents together, which at times was cute when it worked, and worrisome when things didn’t go as planned.
“We haven’t made any plans, but a picnic is out.”
“How’s a picnic going to happen?” Ginnie waved her hand. “Hand them a lunch basket and tell them to go away and not come back until they want to get married?”
The more the novel progressed, the harder it is for Ginnie to come to terms with OSS, her dad, her mom, and Amanda. She does act quite realistically, and quite bratty as well, after finding her mother’s journals – and that comes to light to her father, who embraces this extreme interest of Ginnie’s, in his own way and in his own time…which is, of course, not at all according to any young pre-teen.
“I hate you!” Ginnie screamed.
“I love you enough to let you!” He slammed the door shut and leaned against it.
The way that Todd talks about his late wife, whom Ginnie is named after exactly, is the kind of love and devotion and memory that can leave you breathless.
“When I look back, I can’t believe it either. I’d never even taken chances on quiet girls, and she was a hurricane. I was completely out of my league. I needed her just as much as I needed oxygen to breathe.”
Ginnie is usually the sibling to do the sticking up for, but on the matter of the journals, even Toran comes to her defense, and he is quite heated in his words to their father. He is not a defiant son in the least, but there’s only so far a brother can be pushed!
“He doesn’t understand. Nobody does.”
“I do.” Toran gave her shoulder a quick squeeze. “She was my mom too.”
Toran squared his body to Dad’s and stood tall. “I hope your reasons are really god, Dad, because you’re crushing my sister. Nobody gets to hurt her, even you.”
I loved this first installment in the Ginnie West Adventure series. Ginnie battles several emotional conflicts throughout the novel, and her family and friends are there to help her make sense of it all, even if it’s not on her dime and on her time. We don’t always get what we want, when we want it, and that is a lesson both Ginnie and Tillie learn by the end of the book.
***** About the Author *****
When Monique Bucheger isn’t writing, you can find her playing taxi driver to one or more of her 12 children, plotting her next novel, scrapbooking, or being the “Mamarazzi” at any number of child-oriented events. Even though she realizes there will never be enough hours in any given day, Monique tries very hard to enjoy the journey that is her life. She shares it with a terrific husband, her dozen children, sons-in-law, and adorable grandchildren, cats, and many real and imaginary friends. She is the author of the Ginnie West Adventuresseries, picture book, Popcorn, and plans to write plenty more.
***** About the Illustrator *****
Mikey Brooks is an author/illustrator that specializes in children’s art. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie and Bean’s Dragons. He is the illustrator of several picture books such as Popcorn by Monique Bucheger, Bongo Flo by Carolyn Quist, andLucius and the Christmas Star by Jim Long. He is the author of The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis, The Stone of Valhalla the best-selling middle-grade series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com