Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Saving Baby Doe

Title: Saving Baby Doe
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 230
Availability: March 20, 2014
Review Copy: ARC from publisher

Lionel and Anisa are the best of friends and have seen each other through some pretty tough times--Anisa's dad died and Lionel's dad left, which is like a death for Lionel. They stick together no matter what. So when Lionel suggests a detour through a local construction site on their way home, Anisa doesn't say no. And that's where Lionel and Anisa make a startling discovery--a baby abandoned in a port-o-potty. Anisa and Lionel spring into action. And in saving Baby Doe, they end up saving so much more.

Danette Vigilante crafts an accessible, heartfelt and much needed story for the middle grade market featuring Latino characters. 
--Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Danette Vigilante sure knows how to grab a reader's attention and keep it. The first page drops you right into the presence of a mother giving birth. There are flashes of humor here and there, but the book often has a high level of intensity. My emotions were involved early on in the book. I was rooting for Lionel throughout the serious complications that life threw his way. He is a young man who cares about his friends and wants to be helpful. He doesn't always make the best choices as he tries to help, but he certainly has good intentions and a big heart.

Vigilante has delivered a fairly gritty book for the middle grade audience. It is living up to the label realistic fiction. Things are not sugar-coated. An abandoned baby, religious conflicts, violence, and instruction on condom use are all topics that come up among others. Saving Baby Doe is labeled middle grade. The publisher information says grades 5 and up and I would say that this is pretty solidly middle school territory. Lionel himself is thirteen and dealing with mature issues even though the cover may lead readers to believe that it is a more humorous book with a younger main character.

What really made this book work for me were the relationships. Lionel and Anisa have a friendship that anyone would envy. They will do just about anything for each other. The adults in the story really appealed to me too. Aside from a loving mom, Lionel has two mentors in his apartment building, Miss D and Mr. Owen. These two look out for Lionel and help him in more ways than he even understands. Miss D gives him piano lessons and love. Mr. Owen listens to Lionel and shares himself. 

I found it interesting that Vigilante tackled subjects that don't often come up in children's literature. One example is the conflict between the religious views of Lionel's family and Anisa's. Anisa's mother has gone through a religious experience of some kind and wants little to do with anyone who is not saved. This puts a decided strain on the relationship between the families.

No matter what was happening around Lionel, including getting mixed up with some shady characters, I worried for him and my emotions were all in a tangle. Is it appropriate to admit that I cried while reading this book? It happened. This is a book that will stick with readers as it touches their hearts.

I would recommend Saving Baby Doe for fans of realistic fiction or issue books and those who don't mind a bit of a cry.


  1. This is definitely on my list of books to read, although any time someone mentions "gritty" I worry. Is there a lot of language? How graphic is the giving birth scene? Thanks for mentioning this one.

  2. The language is not really the thing that made it edgy for younger readers it is the content. The birthing is not all that graphic, but the protagonists are having to deal with issues like drug sales and birth control conversations with parents. I would say that it would work well in middle school, but not below 5th grade.