From the back cover: Meet the Fletchers—four boys and two dads…and one neighbor who just might ruin everything. The start of the school year is not going as the Fletcher brothers hoped. Each boy finds his plans for success veering off in unexpected and sometimes disastrous directions. And at home, their miserable new neighbor complains about everything. As the year continues, the boys learn the hard and often hilarious lesson that sometimes what you least expect is what you come to care about the most.

Did you, like me, grow up reading about Ramona and Beezus Quimby, their neighbor Henry Huggins, and his dog Ribsy? Do you, like me, lament your own kids’ disinterest in those stories? Hand your kids The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. Dana Alison Levy captures the same sense of familial and neighborly belonging and the same sense of chaos and camaraderie that made Beverly Cleary’s stories so engaging.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is about self-discovery and communication…and miscommunication. It’s about making choices, trying new things, reaching out to others, and realizing that things are not always as they seem. It’s the perfect book for kids who are just starting—or coming up on—middle school.

Because we meet all four boys at once—on the porch for their first-day-of-school photograph—it took me a while to sort out who was who at first. However, the initial chapter sets up the family dynamic very well, and it’s worth trusting the author. Over the next few chapters, I developed a stronger feel for the boys and what their journeys might look like. Each chapter focuses on one of the four Fletcher boys, though never in a vacuum. (Peace and quiet is surely scarce in a family of six.)

I identified easily with the two oldest Fletcher boys, Sam (12) and Jax (10), probably because I faced similar issues at those ages. It’s embarrassing to admit, but they respond to their situations with more self-awareness and grace than I did. But it wasn’t as if I didn’t connect with the other boys. As a person who talks to imaginary people all the time (#writerproblems), I was intrigued to see how things played out as Frog and his imaginary friend Flame attended Kindergarten. And Eli? Oh, Eli—just open up and share your worries with Dad and Papa!

I was a little worried, at first, that the neighbor, Mr. Nelson, was going to end up being a stereotypical homophobe, but he opens up in unexpected ways and I found his story and Eli’s the most satisfying of all, in the end.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher reminded me of the way there are days when everyone has to be someplace different at the same time, or the way my siblings and I got into all sorts of trouble together when my parents had left me ostensibly in charge. Full of three-way conversations, clever family traditions, and fumbled good intentions, I wish the Fletchers lived in my neighborhood—but maybe three or four doors down, because I’m kind of a grouch sometimes.

For February 8: A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.