HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Next-Door Neighbors
Author: Sarah Ellis
Jacket Illustrator: Jacqueline Garrick
Publisher: Yearling, republished 1992
ISBN-13: 978-0689504952 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0689504950 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0440406204 Paperback
ISBN-10: 044040620X Paperback
Related website(s): http://www.SimonSaysKids.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Ellis, Sarah. Next-Door Neighbors (Published in Canada in1989 by Douglas and McIntyre/Groundswood Books, Vancouver, BC; republished in the United States in 1990 by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). Twelve year old Margaret (Peggy) Davies has just moved with her minister father, mother, seventeen year old sister Doreen (Dorrie), sixteen year old brother Colin, and cat Nebuchadnezzar, from their old home in the country to a new town where she goes to Lord Nelson School. Peggy is shy and feels lonely and uncomfortable, so she tells a lie about having a horse back at Cedargrove, but Linda, who seems to be a leader among the girls, finds out the truth and begins to snub Peggy. Then Peggy starts to meet other people.
There’s the unconventional George Slobodkin, son of the Russian immigrant church custodian who lives with his family in an apartment attached to the church on one side of the Davieses’ house, but Peggy thinks that he’s weird. And there’s Sing Lee, the Chinese servant of her neighbor Mrs. Manning on the other side, but his mistress treats him imperiously. Can Peggy learn to overcome her shyness? Will she ever make any friends? And how do her nerdy schoolmate, the Oriental houseman, and a puppet show figure in Peggy’s adjustment to her new neighborhood? There are a couple of common euphemisms (e.g., “heck” and “gosh”) and some references to drinking beer and circulating a bottle of rye.
Otherwise, this is an undramatic yet warmhearted and moving novel with a convincing portrayal of quiet maturation as Peggy learns a great deal about herself and defies the small-town social taboos. Shy Peggy’s adjustments are the focus of this story. Though set in 1957, plausible characterizations of people in true to life situations make the book realistic, capturing universal fears and feelings not unique to any specific period. Peggy’s small victories and adventures add up to enable her to overcome much of her shyness and make some new, unexpected friends. It’s nice to read a tale about a minister’s family that pictures the members as “normal.”