Ella’s mother has been sick with cancer for many years. Now doctors want to try a dangerous stem cell transplant as a last ditch effort to save her life. While she undergoes this treatment, Ella needs somewhere to stay. Her parents are divorced, and her father has been absent for most of Ella’s life. Because he will be busy leading fishing expeditions, he suggests that his daughter spend the summer with her grandmother, a woman Ella has never met. Having no other options, Ella and her dog fly to Albuquerque and encounter a very formidable woman who lives in the desert without a television or the Internet.
Violet Von Stern has lived alone many years in her New Mexico adobe with only the companionship of her dog and numerous peacocks. Her husband died long ago and her relationship with her son, Ella’s father, is poor. Over the years, she has come to care more for her large library of rare books than her own family. When Ella arrives, Violet does not know how to act. She spends more time correcting Ella’s grammar and etiquette than helping her granddaughter cope the very real possibility that she may lose her mother. Ella refers to her grandmother as the General Major and calls the residence the Good Grammar Correctional Facility in the letters she writes to her mother. It appears that Ella is in store for a miserable summer until a mystery arises. An incredibly valuable copy of Johannes Kepler’s Somnium is stolen from Violet’s library. There are plenty of suspects, but Ella thinks she knows who is responsible; she just has to prove it. As she investigates the theft, Ella learns the tragic details of her Violet’s life, and she starts to feel a bit of sympathy for her tough grandmother.
Juliet Bell’s debut novel is the kind of quiet story that is appreciated more by adults than by children. Ella has a wonderful voice that is full of humor and insight. In fact, all of the characters in Kepler’s Dream are well developed, as are the themes of family, books, and astronomy. Where the book falls short is in the mystery, which is resolved without much interest. Though Kepler’s Dream will not have mass appeal, fifth and sixth grade readers who enjoy novels like Walk Two Moons will appreciate this lovely book.
3.5 out of 5 stars