By August Scattergood

Scholastic (January 6, 2015)

Reviewed by Carol Baldwin

The Way to Stay in DestinyThe minute sixth-grader Theo Thomas gets off the bus and arrives in Destiny, Florida with his Uncle Raymond, I’m right there with him. The author, Augusta Scattergood, uses great details to pull readers into the character and setting: Theo grabs his bags, baseball mitt and a tattered book, Everything You Want to Know About Baseball; the heat hits him like a slap in the face; diesel fumes whoosh around him; he encounters slithery gray stuff hanging from the trees; and no “old men in shorts and flip-flops” meet him and his uncle at the Marathon gas station.

Theo shakes his head at the banner stretching across the street, Destiny, Florida: The Town Time Forgot and wonders, “Man, what am I doing here?”

Writers are encouraged to begin their story at the moment in the character’s life when things change. True to that advice, Scattergood starts this book with the fact that Theo’s life has taken a turn for the worse. As the story moves forward and Theo becomes acquainted with his new hometown, the reader finds out that he lived with his maternal grandparents on their Kentucky farm since his parents died in an accident when he was four. Now, his Vietnam vet uncle had to come back from his happy life in Alaska to sell the farm, put his parents in a nursing home, and take care of his nephew. None of which he wanted to do.

At the same time that his uncle lays down the law about how life is going to be now that he’s in charge, Theo is busy discovering that downstairs from his room, there’s a beautiful piano in Miss Sister Grandersole’s Rooming House and Dance Academy. He also makes the acquaintance of Anabel Johnson, who would rather be playing baseball than taking tap dance lessons.

The piano is like a magnet to Theo and despite his uncle’s displeasure, he can’t keep his hands off of it. Miss Sister recognizes Theo’s special talent to play music by ear, but all his uncle can say is, “No one but a fool wastes his time playing a piano.”

Although this is Theo’s story of discovering a way to make a life without his grandparents in a new city, it is equally about Raymond coming to grips with his Vietnam nightmares and sorrows. I loved how slowly his backstory is revealed and how Theo discovers his uncle’s hurts as an unappreciated Vietnam veteran. Their reconciliation is beautiful and authentic without being sappy or maudlin.

I appreciated the way in which the author wove together the strands of the other character’s stories. Anabel’s passion for baseball and her determination to uncover part of Destiny’s history; and Miss Sister’s dancing dreams that turned out different than she expected, are both strong sub-plots in the book.

I also loved that Theo was as passionate about playing the piano as he was about practicing baseball. These two strands created a very unique character.

There are too many great lines from this book for me to quote, but here are a few:

  • “Music Makes Memories” the sign in Sister’s practice room. The sign provides great sub-text for the novel.

  • When Theo plays the piano he describes it as, “music jumping out of his fingers.”

  • Uncle Raymond: “I don’t know nothing about raising kids. Especially ones that remind me of the bad times.”

  • Theo: “I’ll start acting like family when you do.”

  • Uncle Raymond: “I hate everything that happened. I hate you having no one but me.”

Listen to Augusta read a snippet of The Way to Stay in Destiny, here:

CAROL BALDWIN is a contributing editor to LitChat. Read her complete bio here.