Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek

Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek was so captivating that I could not put it down and read it in two days. The story is told through the eyes of Ellie Sanders, the main character who is an eleven year old girl. Ellie is forced into adulthood way too soon due to her parents behaviors. He mother has emotional troubles that are unpredictable and sometimes frightening for Ellie. She adores her mother and has taken on more of a caretaker role to her. There are moments and memories of wonderful times with her mother and Ellie treasures them. She realizes after spending time at her best friends Mary's house, that mothers are supposed to make lemonade and take care of you, not the other way around. Ellie clings to her father for solidity and strength hoping for a normal life as other children have. Her father takes care of her and her mother and they learn to hide some of the things that her mother does. This all changes for Ellie when her father becomes smitten with a young girl who raises and sells tomatoes to the general store that Ellie's father manages. Ellie calls Tessa the Tomato Girl and blames her for disrupting her home and luring her father away from their family.

Ellie has to watch as her mother's sanity gradually slips away. The story takes place in the 60's in the south and includes racial elements respective of that time. There are many wonderful people that take Ellie under their wing and I especially enjoyed reading about Clara-The magic lady and Jericho, Mr Morgan and her teachers that watched out for Ellie and loved her. Ellie creates a secret world to save herself behind the chalk door. Here's a passage that I loved that shows the power of our hearts and minds:

"The Chalk door is good magic to shut out cruel deeds and words from others. That was a gift from Mr. Morgan, something he wanted you to use to protect yourself from rumors and name calling. But you use the chalk door to hide. To learn real magic, you have to face things that scare you. You have to face the hurt inside here," she says pointing to my heart, "if you are ever to be rid of it."

I believe that everyone has a chalk door that they can choose to hide behind and this was such a powerful analogy. This is just one example of the beautiful writing of Jayne Pupek's novel Tomato Girl.

I enjoyed reading each chapter and looked forward to the chapter titles to give me an idea of what was ahead. One of my favorite chaper titles was "Chalk Doors, Chocolates and a Kiss". When I finished the book, I did return to the prologue and re-read it and gained a further understanding of the book.

This is a powerful book in so many ways. The subject matter can be difficult to read but it is written in such a way that pulls you in and you are drawn to Ellie and the other characters in the book. There is a sense of hopefulness that draws you along through Ellies voice to the end. It is hard to imagine that a child would have to endure some of these experiences that Ellie goes through but there is a reality and truth to this story that children do experience these things and can endure. There is a positive note to the sadness told in this story with a bittersweet ending. I highly recommend this debut novel by Jayne Pupek for the depth of emotion and truth it shares, that we can endure a childhood that presents so many challenges. This is one of my favorite books that I have read this year and I look forward to more books written by Jayne Pupek.

To read more about the author Jayne Pupek and her other work and projects, please check out her website here. There is Readers Guide for Tomato Girl available here.

Thank you to Jayne Pupek and Algonquin Books for this book.


  1. Bonnie - I read this book just a few days ago. It was a hard book to read (content-wise) but a very good one. I felt so badly for Ellie, but toward the end, I also felt badly for her father.

    I'm definitely going to look for more books by Ms. Pupek.

  2. What a lovely review. How can I resist putting this book near the top of my TBR list?

  3. I really enjoyed your review, thank you. This books sounds like it could easily be a bestseller; I certainly want to read it! :-)


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  4. Another good review of this book...I really want to read this one!

  5. I have no problem reading about a difficult subject matter if the characters are richly drawn and it sounds as if they are in this book.

  6. I really enjoyed this book, even though it tackled a difficult subject.

  7. Nice review. I really want to read this book.

  8. What a lovely review. I really want to read this one.

  9. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile now Bonnie. Thanks for sharing such a great review with us.

  10. Terrific Review Bonnie. This one is seriously on my list... every time I read yet another review, I think "oh I must read this.."

  11. Really great review Bonnie. This was one of my favorite books last year. It is a difficult read but it's one of those books that pulls you in and just doesn't let go. You just feel so much for Ellie. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

  12. This is a must-read for me. Hopefully this year I'll get to it.

  13. Bonnie-
    Excellent review dear, just excellent. I read this book last year and loved it too. But I found myself wanting to beat the crap out of her father. There were times that I thought Ellie had just too many bads things happening to her, but Jayne never let this character lose hope or to have someone looking out for her in the end. Like you, I look forward to reading her next novel.

  14. I've seen this one around so many times but your description and thoughts have really made me want to pick it up. I just read The Glass Castle and it too has a sense of hope in such hopeless situations. Thanks for the great review.

  15. I don't know if I would want to read this novel even though I seen it recommended all over the place. I just don't like books about kids getting mistreated (even though it does happen in real life). I can't imagine what I would want to do to the father (in reference to Staci's comment) because I recently read a book where the father was emotionally detached from his daughter and made no effort to get to know her and even that much mistreatment upset me.

  16. I'm glad you liked the book. I thought it was great and very well written. I agree that parts of it were difficult to read, but it was so worth it. Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric


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