Suzanne LaFleur hit the big time with her debut novel, Love, Aubrey. That book won numerous awards for new voices in children's literature. A reviewer for The Independent (UK) wrote that it is "quite simply the best book for girls nine and over that I have ever read." It was a marvelous, touching read.
Eight Keys, LaFleur's second novel, while an equally tender story, doesn't quite hit the mark Love, Aubrey did. I think my greatest disappointment was that I didn't connect as strongly with the main character in the story. My heart strings weren't tugged as much. I was expecting another blockbuster and received a touching, but fair, story. I still would recommend it to a child struggling with the death of a parent or with the emotional adjustments the pre-teen years can bring. It was a good read, just not the stunner I was anticipating. Still, it is a good, clean story with wonderful life lessons for the difficult stage of adolescence.
Elise Bertrand is starting middle school. She is attempting to throw off the childish games of the past, which might include distancing herself from her life-long friend, Franklin. The transition is bumpy until she discovers the first of eight keys left by her father prior to his death from cancer. Elise must use the keys, when she is ready, to unlock truths her father wanted her to know about herself and about life.
The idea of the keys and of the father's ability to communicate with his daughter from beyond the grave was clever. The lessens were important. But, perhaps the story became a bit too didactic with the lessons behind each discovery. It needed to flow more naturally and to present the lessens more subtly, in my opinion.
Of course, a nine-to-twelve year old reader is not going to be reading with the critical eye I tend to use. They will certainly enjoy getting to know Elise. They will probably relate to her difficulties in making the transition to middle school. They will understand her frustration in facing a bully who daily destroys her lunch. So, I would still recommend the story, but give a higher recommendation for Love, Aubrey. Even though this novel didn't wow as much as her first, I am still eager to read her third novel, Listening for Lucca.