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Rain Falling on Embers: Katie McCabe #1
Gardner, Liana
This series starter from Gardner (author of Speak No Evil) introduces Katie McCabe, a rebellious and impetuous 13 year old from a small town who lives with her straight-laced but loving widower father—the local sheriff. Katie pushes every boundary, until her dad turns her world upside down by letting her know he is seriously ill and that, while he undergoes treatment, he’s sending Katie to live with her Uncle Charlie in an even smaller town. Katie is devastated at the thought of being sent away and frightened at the prospect of losing her father. At Charlie's farm, Katie’s determined to make so much trouble that they send her back. But when tragedy strikes,Katie is pulled between needing love from the only family she has left and punishing them for not being her father.

Along the way, impulsive Katie makes friends, enemies, and a lot of poor decisions before ultimately taking a heroic journey into a new life. She’s a compelling character, one whose strong will and temper lead her to lash out—and feel real remorse afterwards. Also strong is her cousin Sarah, who offers love and discipline in a motherly way that’s new to Katie; some of the novel’s most moving moments find Katie both drawn to Sarah's nurturing ways but intent on not complying with her, either. These are flawed, fascinating people young readers will relate to and care about, and Gardner offers enticing reasons to follow on their paths in future series entries.

While Katie’s everyday life is engaging, the novel also incorporates some suspense elements, including a kidnapping and tense scenes of wilderness survival, plus some mild violence, and several moments of bullying that young readers may (unfortunately) identify with. As she faces and endures these challenges, Katie draws on what she’s lost—and also touchingly begins to appreciate and trust what she’s gained.

Takeaway: Rebellious teen facing loss must learn to adapt, trust, and survive.

Comparable Titles: Dan Gemeinhart’s The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, Paul Griffin’s When Friendship Followed Me Home.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A