And it’s a special one! Congratulations to Varian Johnson and THE PARKER INHERITANCE, the winner of 2018’s CYBILS Middle Grade Fiction Award.cybils-2018-300x168.png

I previously reviewed two of the CYBILS Finalists: In December I featured FRONT DESK and last September I gave a thumbs up to THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL. Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll have brief reviews of the other four finalists. But today is all about our winner!

In the past three years I’ve read Middle Grade books exploring a number of heavy topics. Racism, gay acceptance, police violence against black youth, bullyiThe-Parker-Inheritance-final-cover-689x1024.jpgng, and sexism come to mind. There have also been much lighter fare devoted to friendships and the occasional mystery. The Parker Inheritance takes all of these topics and threads them into one glorious story all of us should read.

Set in the fictional town of Lambert, South Carolina (although based on the author’s hometown, Florence, SC), it’s the present day story of Candice and her new friend Brandon as they research the past and a letter Candice found in her Grandmother’s attic. She not only wants to clear her beloved grandmother’s name for some wrong doings, but also discover if there really is a huge amount of money hidden somewhere in the town. To do so she and her friend will have to solve a puzzle.

This leads the sleuths to the ugly past of Lambert and a separate story set mostly in the 1950s. The cover depicts this splendidly with the split visual of old and new. On the left side of cover you can barely make out the characters from this other time period, Beautiful Siobhan standing under the PJ’s sign and mixed race Reggie shining shoes. They are in love and events soon to unfold will tear them apart, but also provide the connection to the modern day story.

The casual reader will have an almost impossible time figuring out the puzzle, but it is fun trying. This is one of those rare books I couldn’t wait to return to so that more of the mystery would be revealed. It’s an eye opening account of growing up a different color than white in the south. Things have improved but we still have a long way to go.

You may need a scorecard to keep up with all the character names and the length might scare away emerging readers, but the story is one you will long remember. The themes are ripe for discussion and the end result will be a greater healing of the differences that often divide us in this country.




  1. The two friendships in the story were a touching reminder of the importance in having someone you can lean on.
  2. The back and forth writing in two time periods is a difficult one to pull off.  There is usually a drop off in interest as one story is interrupted by another. Here though, the two tales are woven into one in an intriguing and page turning way.
  3. Although fiction, the book does give you real life events like Brown v. Board of Education and African American tennis player, Althea Gibson, winning her match at Wimbledon.
  4. The puzzle was a fun way to pull in readers. The end result is the real story of intolerance in 1950s America. A time period we should never forget.
  5. The author does a six and half page Q & A in the back of the book—further insights into topics and events in the book. Very revealing!


She ran her thumb over her grandmother’s handwritten words.
Find the path. Solve the puzzle
What if her grandmother hadn’t made a mistake? What if there was a treasure?
What if her grandmother had put the letter there, on purpose?
For her?


When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again? 


A QUOTE FROM Varian Johnson

As I wrote The Parker Inheritance, I found myself thinking even more about the power of perception. How it could be a danger to those without power . . . and also how we could manipulate that perception to create a level playing field. What if we dressed in a different way? Talked in a different way? Had different friends? How much of yourself is worth giving up if it allows you a chance to be successful? To live without fear? To survive?

Even after writing the book, I don’t have any real answers. But I hope as others read the novel, they begin to consider their own perceptions. Those in positions of power often see their mistaken viewpoints as mere inconveniences, or as life lessons. But for the powerless, that same misguided viewpoint may very well be the difference between life and death.

(For the full background on the event in the author’s life that became the jump start for The Parker Inheritance, visit Mr. Johnson’s website)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. As always, this is a great review. I was very pleased when you and the other judges picked this for the Cybils award (but it was really hard not to add my thoughts when I was reading everyone else’s). I’m rereading this book now and liking it even for than the first time. Thanks for taking over MMGM and doing such a great job.

  2. Andrea Mack says:

    Oh, I want to read this one! I always love a good mystery and the fact that there are deeper issues woven in makes it even more appealing.

  3. Sue Heavenrich says:

    I love books like this… a puzzle wrapped in an enigma and hidden in grandma’s trunk.

  4. Thanks for all your work on the Cybils! It’s always hard to pick one winner! Enjoy getting back to your regularly scheduled reading!

  5. Well, I can see from your review why this book was chosen. It sounds fantastic. Thanks for telling me about it. I can see I need to read it.

  6. Congratulations to the author on earning this honor! I’ll look forward to hearing about the other nominees. Thank you, Greg, for sharing this read with us for MMGM.

  7. Joanne Fritz says:

    I’ve heard so much about this wonderful book. Clearly, I need to read it soon. And you’re right that as a country we still have a long way to go.

  8. Yes, thank you for all you did for the Cybils. This sounds like an excellent read — a secret, a mystery and a treasure.

  9. Pingback: CYBILS FINALISTS Part One | Always in the Middle…

  10. Janet Smart says:

    Thanks for the review, Greg. I love mysteries for kids to solve.

  11. Pingback: CYBILS FINALISTS Part Two | Always in the Middle…

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