Book Review: The Handle and the Key by John Neufeld

Title: The Handle and the Key

Author: John Neufeld

Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 160

Rating: C+

Recommended?: No

The Handle and the Key deals with two very different children and how they learn to live with each other. Dan is a foster kid with attachment issues who’s adopted by a loving family but refuses to believe it will last. The mom is pregnant and Dan is afraid he’ll become obsolete when it’s born. They fostered him before in the past, but he doesn’t remember, which is kind of weird. It seems like his trauma has left gaps in his memory.

The parents’ daughter, Mary Kate, immediately takes a dislike to Dan and jealously tries to sabotage him. What a hateful little wench. If I was her mom I’d give HER up for adoption. The way she ultimately tries to sabotage him doesn’t make much sense, though. She just pens a letter from her ‘parents’ saying the family wants to give Dan up. Then a social worker comes and the parents are like ‘No, we don’t want to give Dan up. We don’t know who wrote that.’ How did she expect things to go? If she wanted to get rid of him, why didn’t she frame him for something or make a serious accusation against him instead?

I felt bad for Dan and genuinely felt a sense of dread when Mary Kate tried to ruin his newfound sense of stability. I was legit scared for the poor kid. However, the character development was seriously lacking and I couldn’t figure out what had changed Mary Kate’s feelings toward Dan at the end. She has this sudden turn-around where she seems to decide that maybe she can tolerate him. The ending itself was extremely abrupt.

It felt like there should have been at least one extra chapter to tie the loose ends together. The parents felt too good to be true and cheesy and their dialogue was bland. I didn’t get any sense of personality or development from either of them. I think this story could have been really good if it had had more to it so the reader could more deeply reflect on the characters and the themes. It isn’t a bad book but feels at its core very simplistic, a missed opportunity.

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