Eleven-year-old Groovy Robinson knows her passion in life: cooking. Her fondest wish is to attend cooking school when she grows up and become a real chef. When, in the opening scene, her father is arrested by Officer Miguel as father and daughter walk down the street (and just the two words "Officer Miguel" signal the small-town, multicultural setting -- this cop is a friend!) that's a horrifying enough change in her life. But Groovy doesn't know the half of it. Her mother puts off telling her, for as long as she can, that she called the police to have him arrested, because he had withdrawn from the bank $25,000 left to Groovy by her grandmother, a sum counted on to pay for cooking school, and lost it betting on the horses. The rest of the book traces Groovy's journey to finding alternative ways to reach her dream, and ultimately to forgiveness.
Groovy (who early on rejects this nickname from her father in favor of her real name, Eleanor) is a likable character, and I enjoyed the depth of the secondary characters as well. "There's more to people than meets the eye" is an important theme in this book. The mother seems shallow and the father doting, yet it's the mother who comes through and the father who fails her. Marisol, a snooty, seriously gifted artist, becomes a friend. The mother of her best friend Frankie, back after an unexplained two-year absence, had left to protect Frankie because of trouble with her green card, and Luis, Frankie's stepbrother, is barely out of his teens yet a more stable presence for both children than any of the parents.
This is a quiet novel, a heartwarming novel, a novel with layers, and a novel of the type that gets Newbery attention. Ultimately, it says that forgiveness is the only way to not put a stopper in your life. I think Groovy's story says something else, too, something that's shown, not told, and that may be difficult to accept: No matter who else makes a difference in your life (Luis) -- and those differences can be powerful -- kids' worlds rise and fall on the parents.