Elise is starting sixth grade and nothing seems to be going right in middle school. Her best friend, Franklin, is embarrassing. Her locker partner, Amanda, makes fun of Elise and smashes her lunch every day. The school work is hard and she's fallen behind. When Elise finds a key hanging in the barn with her name on it, she begins unlocking a puzzle left behind by her deceased father -- literally unlocking, since the puzzle is the contents of the rooms behind eight locked doors upstairs in the barn. Each room helps Elise in her journey to better understand herself and what is important in her life.
I was a bit worried that there would be too many similarities with Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, when I realized the story was about a puzzle left behind by a dead parent. But, after finishing the book, I think that's about all that was similar. Suzanne LaFleur ties in the awkward changes each preteen experiences when dealing with new friends, old friends, and even includes a confrontation with a bully. Elise uses the messages left to her by her father as a way to accept the new, while still embracing and appreciating the old.
I think readers who appreciate an introspective story will enjoy this one. B rating.