Sweet story conceals nail biting thriller

A kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.

If it’s your responsibility — real or perceived — you need to make things happen. You must take charge because doing so is an excellent sign of a good person and a good sign that you’re growing up. Or, as in the new book “Everlasting Nora” by Marie Miranda Cruz, it’s a matter of life or death.

Aside from her Papa, a soft bed was the thing Nora missed the most.

But when you live in a mausoleum — a tiny house that protects a grave — there is no room for a bed or a kitchen or much at all. At least she and Mama had a dry home and food once or twice a day. For that, Nora was grateful.

Last year, before the fire and Papa’s death, before losing all their money to Lola Fely, before fleeing to the cemetery, Nora had a bed, toys, and she even went to school. She really missed school, too; kids in the cemetery were sometimes taught by a kind man who came with a wagon of books and lessons but it wasn’t the same.

Nora dreamed of having her old life back. Meanwhile, she helped Mama wash laundry for women in the city, she sold dried flower garlands for small money, and she kept busy helping others around the cemetery. Many people lived there, people who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else, and that included Nora’s best friend, Jojo.

When she and Mama first moved to the cemetery, Nora didn’t like Jojo much. He was too opinionated, but she eventually saw his kindness when he helped her navigate life with almost nothing.

His friendship was one of the good things Nora held tightly when bad things happened, like when Mama used her laundry wages to play Mah Jongg, a gambling game that she apparently wasn’t very good at. Gambling, as Nora knew, wasn’t being smart with money. And when her mother disappeared one evening and didn’t return, Nora learned that, with the wrong partners, gambling could also be dangerous.

Were it not for a slightly simpler plot and children at its core, “Everlasting Nora” could have easily been a novel for adults.

That’s a warning — and a recommendation.

On the latter, author Marie Miranda Cruz offers readers a tale of warmth and friendship that quietly conceals a thriller that will leave you breathless, even though you know (spoiler alert!) things will turn out just fine. They’re the kinds of plotlines that make even nail-biting grown-ups tempted to skim and skip ahead because they are just that exciting and therein lies the warning. Early parts of this story are sweet and excellently told but that beginning is absolutely driven by a thread that can become pretty intense, maybe sometimes too intense for its intended audience.

That audience is ages 9 to 12 but maybe not every child in that range. Sensitive kids, no, but if yours can handle a heart-pounder, then they’ll love “Everlasting Nora.”

Reading it might be what that kid’s gotta do.

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