From School Library Journal
Grade 6–9—Grace's story opens with a brief idyllic episode in her seventh summer spent with her grandparents in the rural Midwest. She wholly immerses herself in the natural beauty and wonder of her surroundings, beginning a lifelong love of frogs, lizards, and snakes. The narrative soon shifts forward to Grace's eighth-grade year in New York City, where her mother's graduate work and teaching have taken them. Grace's hatred of urban life and difficulty in adjusting to a school where she feels freakish intensify the pain of adolescence. She stumbles upon a pet shop called Fang and Claw, and soon she's helping Pops and his son, Walter, with the care of the marvelous creatures, including Spot, a gorgeous iguana that Grace adores on sight and takes home. A long-awaited summer return to Mooresville disappoints her: the countryside is being ruined by suburban sprawl, her grandparents are slowing down, and her body is betraying her with embarrassing developments. Upon returning to New York, she feels as alien in her own skin as the displaced tropical lizards and snakes she favors. Grace ultimately begins to shape her environment so she can thrive and to value those special people like Walter who appreciate her. Nicely characterized, showing keen awareness of the young teen experience, and written to reveal the reptilian world in colorful detail, the story is an obvious fit for animal lovers, particularly those who delight in the cold-blooded variety. All readers will come to understand Grace's fancy for these creatures even if they don't share her lizard love. A worthwhile choice for young folks shedding the skin of childhood.—Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA
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*Starred Review* Grace, who has moved from Mooresville, Indiana, to Manhattan, is having trouble adjusting. She misses the trappings of her grandparents’ farm; the dank, muddy creek bottom; and the treetops, lit by lightning bugs—and she misses the birds and bullfrogs who were her friends. When Grace discovers the Fang & Claw, a pet store specializing in reptiles, she finds in it something that feels like home. Soon Grace is spending every day after school helping Pops and his son, Walter, and she even adopts Spot, an iguana. But as she begins to enjoy her growing sense of stability, her maturing body brings unwanted attention that throws her for a loop once again. In her debut novel, Townsend displays a remarkable narrative gift. Though her images remain a little static when she’s describing urban things, her language really comes alive when talking about the the natural world; her sensuous herpetological descriptions are unflinching, evocative, and positively elegant. Even the minor characterizations are full and complex, and the relationships drawn among them resonate with the honesty of adolescence. Though Grace’s naïveté seems surprising at first, this story will still find a very enthusiastic audience among young people, especially outsiders, walking the daily tightrope between fitting in and growing up. Grades 6-12. --Thom Barthelmess