THE UMBRELLA HOUSE, by Colleen Nelson, Pajama Press, June 6, 2023, Hardcover, $18.95 (ages 8-12)
A girl and her friend try to save their apartment building by entering a video contest in The Umbrella House, by Colleen Nelson.
Middle-schooler and Manhattanite Roxy Markowski wants to tell the truth fearlessly and powerfully, just like her idols at Veracity News. She and her best friend Scout already make YouTube videos together about East Village life, so when Veracity News announces a Young Voices video competition, Roxy knows it’s the perfect opportunity to make a name for herself, if only she can find a story worth telling.
When a real-estate mogul threatens to buy her historic East Village apartment building, Umbrella House, Roxy sets out to create a video about the people who live in her building, depicting their love for art, community, and family.
With time—and her options for saving Umbrella House running out, Roxy finds herself caught up in the mystery of the Midnight Muralist, a famous East Village artist whose murals once buildings famous and valuable. Could finding this enigmatic artist be the key to saving her historic East Village apartment building? —Synopsis provided by Pajama House
The Umbrella House is the story of community and how gentrification can change or — in some cases — destroy it.
The story is told from Roxy’s point of view. She’s bright and community minded, and she dreams of becoming a journalist. Her bold personality is tempered by her friend Scout, a talented photographer that is more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. Both Roxy and Scout are well-realized and a quirky cast of supporting characters add dimension and liveliness.
Roxy’s apartment building is what they call a “squat” building. The original landlord stopped maintain and paying taxes on the building, and it became abandoned. Over time, squatters moved in and started fixing it up. After the squatters transformed the building, the city tried to kick them out. They went to court, and the squatters won the right to the building, paying $1 each. Now a co-op, the residents learn that with one vote, the city council can sell the building out from under them. That’s where Roxy’s video comes in.
At just over 200 pages, The Umbrella House is an accessible middle-grade book that is full of life and creativity. It has broad appeal and is a fulfilling read.
*The Umbrella House is a Cybils-nominated book. This review is my opinion and not the opinion of the middle-grade fiction panel as a whole.
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