Everything I Was, by Corinne Demas (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books, 2011)

Thirteen-year-old Irene’s life is falling apart around her. Her father’s lost his job due to some corporate downsizing, while her mother’s excessive spending habits have helped put the family into debt. The solution: sell off much of their belongings, leave their fancy New York penthouse apartment, and move into the country to stay with Irene’s farmer grandfather. While her father looks for work, and her mother looks for an affordable apartment, Irene simply looks to get by. To her surprise, she feels comfortable living out there, away from the city. Soon, she’s made new friends, and even discovers love. But just when everything’s looking up for her, will her parents manage to screw it up, yet again?

In a story that resonates all too well in these troubled economic times, Demas spins out a heartfelt, believable tale. Irene is a sympathetic character, and it’s encouraging to watch her learn to stand up for herself and take control of her own life. You can just imagine her growing up to be a strong-willed, independent, feisty woman, the sort who doesn’t let anyone jerk her around, and this is where it all starts. It helps, of course, that she has an interesting supporting cast, from her non-nonsense salt-of-the-earth grandfather to the rambunctious Fox family, who pretty much accept her immediately. The only character who doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of sympathetic treatment is Irene’s mother, who mistakes luxuries for necessities and never really adapts to the country and loss of social prestige. Obviously, not everyone copes with change well, but she doesn’t fare too well compared to how Irene or her father grow and flourish.

The language is rich and colorful, lush descriptions of the countryside and its charms painting an alluring picture. It’s enough to make one want to give up the city and head for the hills and fresh air. No wonder Irene falls in love with her new surroundings. That, combined with strong characterization and a powerful story, makes this a compelling read and a book worth picking up.

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