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"...a safe bet for a chuckle or two...zippy, amusing, intelligent..."


The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen

Ballantine Books; 2006; TPB; ISBN 0-345-47956-4


Related Books: (i) Beginner's Luck (ii) Heart's Desire


Genre: Contemporary, Mainstream Fiction

A house of cards has a fragile foundation. Odds are that it will eventually come tumbling down and bury what�s left of a very good hand. Hallie Palmer, for instance, had thought that she had finally found a measure of happiness and independence. After all, she had recently enrolled in a graphic artist program at a local college and was enjoying her social life.

Her father�s sudden death and her mother�s rapid spiral into depression has reshuffled everything in the Palmer household, however, and forced this poker-playing college student to return home to take care of her eight younger siblings. Talk about Cat in the Hat craziness! Unfortunately, Hallie is the only Palmer sibling available to step into their mother�s shoes and put up with all of the telephone ringing, hair pulling, casserole heating, and laundry folding that is required to keep their not-so-little family together and in one mismatched, jigsaw-sized piece.

Losing track of which two-year-old twin brother is which is something of a concern, of course, but the community support has been wonderful and Hallie has definitely benefited from her friendships with people like Bernard and Gil Stockton. (Her Uncle Lenny, on the other hand, has been a bit of a dodgy influence on Davy, Darlene, and Francie.)

Making the best of their current situation is going to require a lot of imagination and a lot of energy, but Hallie has learned that what doesn�t drive you crazy makes you the mother -- or big sister -- of invention�which is a stroke of hard-won luck in this hair-frizzing, sticky-fingered, upside down world.

The Big Shuffle is book number three in Laura Pedersen's zany "coming of age" series featuring not-quite-nineteen-year-old heroine, Hallie Palmer. But is it a standalone read, you ask? Yes and no. When I first set foot in Hallie's crazy and chaotic universe, this reviewer was caught a bit off guard by references to previous, puzzling events -- and by peripheral characters already in a glorious state of full bloom. (Gil is a man? Oops! Bernard's mother, Olivia, has an Italian significant other who's the jealous type? You don't say! Hallie dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen? What on earth happened?!)

The here and now is pretty darn interesting, however, and Pedersen's characterizations are so vividly entertaining that a reader will quickly settle down for a cozy night of reading. Despite the gloomy subject matter -- a parent's death -- this is an uplifting novel that is funny and poignant at the very same time. Focusing on Hallie's choices and chances and the sanity-saving sense of community that is there to support her, The Big Shuffle is a safe bet for a chuckle or two, especially given Hallie's sense of humor in the face of adversity (and the endless, demanding chores of childcare).

With family at its heart and humor as its backbone, Laura Pedersen's novel is a zippy, amusing, intelligent, and surprisingly harmonious account of family crises and the sharp, cutting, maturity-forming edges found on every coin.

Reviewed by Cheryl Jeffries

Date posted: February 1, 2007



Copyright � 2007 Cheryl Jeffries / Heartstrings Reviews.  All rights reserved.