Allison's Book Bag

Ginnie West Books 1-2 by Monique Bucheger

Posted on: June 20, 2012

Normally, I don’t know anything about the authors whose books I review until I interview them. And, of course, sometimes I don’t even have that opportunity. When it comes to Monique Bucheger, author of the Ginnie West series, the situation is a little different. A few years ago, through an online organization called Review Fuse, I read and critiqued several drafts of her first two novels. Since that time, an excerpt from her series placed in the top five percent in Amazon’s Break Through Novel Award contest. Monique also garnered a contract. So, it’s been fun and exciting to see Monique fulfill her dreams of becoming a published novelist.

Now as Monique knows from my critiques of her early drafts of her two novels, I’m always honest in my feedback. Both of the books would benefit from more exposition that would help ground readers as to where the characters are and what the action is. Case in point, I had to read the first two pages of The Secret Sister Club multiple times to figure out where Ginnie and Tillie are when riding, how a car comes out of nowhere, and what led to Ginnie’s horse jumping over a second car. At times, I also felt confused about why one moment a main character would smile, the next minute frown, and another minute smile again. Also, in Trouble Blows West, I never could figure out why the bully Charlie accused Toran of cheating.

Another closely related criticism is the limited description. Having read her early drafts, I know how much Monique has worked on integrating details. To her credit, I can easily tell when the characters are on a farm, at a school, or in a store. Yet I would still be hard put to tell you how one bedroom in the West house differed from another or how Tillie’s house differed from Charlie’s home. In other words, all the settings seem rather generic. From how much her published novels have improved over her early drafts, these are no doubt skills that will continue to develop. Also, the more I got caught up in the family drama, the less I stopped caring about how much or little description there was.

My other criticism is of the plots, which are not particularly original. In The Secret Sister Club, one of the names that Ginnie and Tillie thought about calling their matching scheme was “Parent Trap”. There’s a good reason for that idea. The movie “Parent Trap” is about two girls who play matchmakers of their parents and first aired in the 1960s. To her credit, Monique set her story on a farm instead of camp. The parents are not separated, but Ginnie’s mom has died. Moreover, how the two girls match their parents are very different. In the end, it’s less about how original a plot is and more about what an author does with the plot that makes it work. That I read her two books in a record two days shows how much they engaged me.

What impresses me most is how Monique never swayed from her original goal of writing wholesome family novels. As in the Austin books by Madeleine L’Engle or the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, the main character’s dad plays just as important of a role as her twin sibling Toran or her best friend Tillie. In contrast, parents get a bad rap in most books for middle school students. If one or both parents haven’t deserted the family, they’re alcoholic or abusive or otherwise dysfunctional. Instead, Ginnie’s dad constantly provides parental guidance to Ginnie and her twin brother Toran by expecting them to honor his rules and delivering consequences if they disobey. This isn’t to say that his role amounts strictly to that of an authority figure. He also treats Ginnie and Toran to ice-cream outings and special restaurants, takes them clothes shopping and for go-cart rides, helps them out with chores, and makes clear that he’s always there to listen. On the rare occasion Ginnie’s dad makes a mistake, he willingly admits to it and apologizes.

You might wonder why I keep referring only to Ginnie’s dad. Well, Ginnie lost her mom to a horse-riding accident. In that sense, it might seem as if the parents are conspicuously absent the way they often are in books for elementary-aged students. Yet Ginnie is surrounded by enough relatives, and thinks about her mom enough, to more than make up for her mom’s absence. Besides, there’s Miss Amanda, who not only serves as a love interest to Ginnie’s dad but also takes on a motherly role. Moreover, all of Ginnie’s relatives take their guardian roles seriously, meaning that the Ginnie West series might seem old-fashioned by today’s standards. Yet instead of bending to modern trends, Monique instilled into her books the family values she believes are always needed in fiction for young people.

And, let me tell you, there’s a surprising amount of drama to be found in wholesome family novels. For example, in The Secret Sisters Club, Ginnie and her best friend Tillie play matchmaker with their parents so that they can become sisters. Tension heightens when Ginnie stumbles across her mom’s journals. In her excitement, Ginnie can’t help but spill some of its secrets in conversations with her uncle, prompting him to ask where she learned all these little details about her mom. Feeling that her dad should have the first chance to read those journals, Ginnie’s uncle encourages her to hand them over. Ginnie now faces the dilemma that her dad might keep them from her and steal her opportunity to better know her mom.

Some of these issues are carried into Trouble Blows West, the second book in the Ginnie West series, which takes place just as much at school as the West farm. In the first chapter, Ginnie takes on a bully named Charlie, who is threatening her twin brother Toran, and lands herself a two-day suspension. When her dad finds out, Ginnie is ordered to spend her two-day suspension keeping up with homework AND painting the fence. While painting, Ginnie has plenty of time to think about why Toran might feel angry at her too. Apparently though, it’s not enough time. No sooner does her punishment end than Ginnie defies her dad by taking on Charlie in the movie theater. Toran and Ginnie decide to keep this incident from her dad. However, as anyone who has ever watched the “Father Knows Best” television series knows, parents have a way of finding out when their children misbehave. That still doesn’t keep Toran and Ginnie from plotting revenge on the bully, which lands them in a more troubling situation than anyone could have imagined.

Originally, I had agreed to review just the first book in the Ginnie West series. Monique went ahead and also sent the second in the series, expressing the hope that I wouldn’t be able to stop with just The Sisters Club. I’m glad she did. I enjoyed her wholesome family stories. The only question left to ask is: When do I get the next book to review? 🙂

My rating? Read them: Borrow them. They’re worth your time.

 OR if you’d like your own SIGNED copy, please email Monique @: monique.bucheger@gmail.com. Just for readers of my blog, she’s running a special of $7 per book. They retail for $10

How would you rate these books?

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