If I was teaching still this is a book that I would probably consider as a read aloud especially with seventh graders. There are books that seem meant for discussion and this seems one of them.
The central character of the story is Fern (named by her mom after Fern in Charlotte's Web because her mom thinks that she like Fern is a kind person). The name weighs a bit heavily on Fern. The book opens with a flashback to her being sick when she was eight and being kept home and for once feeling as if she had her mom's total attention.
It is a busy family. The parents own an ice cream store and family restaurant and Fern has an older sister who has graduated but unlike her friends isn't off to college but is reluctantly working in the restaurant and not in a good mood. Her 14 year old brother is a neat freak and gets along well with Fern but is not happy either. Finally there is her little brother only three years old and always happy but a source of annoyance to Fern who he adores. Their dad involves the family in publicity stunts that they find embarrassing and their mother just tries to keep the peace and seems to need to meditate quite a bit in the restaurant office.
Initially it seems as if the very real possibility that Holden is a gay is going to be the central problem theme of the novel until tragedy hits the family from a totally different direction. Fern thinks she is responsible for this sad event but all the family members feel guilt as well as deep sadness. How the family comes out of this sadness as well as an acceptance of their new reality is the real story.
I thought this book was very well done. How the different characters react seemed very realistic and as Katherine Patterson once said good children's literature has to have hope which it does. As well as sadness there is a great deal of humour in this book and some really great characters.
An excellent read and I can see why she is such a popular author.