Life is smoothest for thirteen-year-old Ellie when she keeps her opinions to herself, gets good grades and speaks carefully when her parents ask her to settle their arguments. She feels guilty that she welcomes the chance to spend the summer in another city with her mother's older sister, Jeanette. Ellie makes a new friend and learns to play an Argentine instrument called the bandoneón, which she finds in her aunt's basement. When she goes searching for the bandoneón's original owner, she discovers a story of political intrigue and family secrets that help her start to figure out where her parents end and she begins.
"Adolescent readers will easily relate to Ellie's attempts to establish her own identity separate from the expectations of her parents...Succinct and well-paced."
"A fantastic middle grade novel. Although the author touches on many themes...she manages to integrate them seamlessly into the plot while avoiding preachiness. Ellie's voice is authentic and the novel's resolution is realistic. The subplot involving the thousands of people who 'disappeared' under Argentina's military dictatorship adds an element of mystery to the story and should enlighten readers who may not be familiar with this period in Latin American history."
"[Mulder] skillfully introduces young readers to two issues rare in their fiction: mental health, usually addressed only peripherally, and the Argentinian 'disappeared' people of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship...Mulder does a commendable job of portraying Ellie's mom's illness from all perspectives, such that no one character comes off as callous or self-centered or fabricated...Out of the Box balances the voices and the messages superbly, suggesting its inevitable inclusion on 'must have' book lists."
"The novel addresses many topics—the thousands who "disappeared" under Argentina's military dictatorship, tango music, homelessness, mental illness...Ellie's struggle to show her mother love while creating healthy boundaries resonates, as does the glimpse into a dark period of Argentine history."
"[A] subtle work, blending an exploration of mental instability and a dysfunctional family relationship with a subplot involving an Argentinian immigrant...Mulder's novel avoids easy solutions to the more serious problems of Ellie's family."
"Never heavy-handed, Ellie's frank narration explores her feelings of guilt, and her tale will appeal to middle-school readers. The author weaves in facts about the bandoneón, its use in tango music and its connection to the political unrest and attendant atrocities in Argentina between 1976 and 1983."
"Young readers will thrill at this read!"
"The novel provides an honest perspective on Ellie's mother's mental health issues, as well as a subtle, elegant nod to same-sex relationships...Ellie's voice is strong and engaging, and the story is realistic in its lack of easy solutions...with a wrap-up that is as subtly complex as real life."
"A wonderful story about a teen dealing with difficult family issues and learning about a little-known period of world history, at least by today's teens."
"A wonderfully written first-person, middle grade novel...Ellie's care and love of family, feelings of guilt, and uncertainties will resonate with readers of this engaging novel."
"A very rich and engaging story. Short crisp sentences are packed with stunning realistic description and action that bring the people and places of southern Vancouver Island BC fully alive...Out of the Box is, without a doubt, another stunning indication of Mulder's ability to weave a highly engaging and believable story, one that young readers will thrill to read, and one which has furthered her reputation as an important contributor to contemporary realistic Canadian children's literature. Highly Recommended."
"Ellie's narration authentically conveys her gradual growth, the insecurities that surround her developing friendships, her role in a dysfunctional family, and the pleasure she takes in music. Adults and their relationships are portrayed credibly...A bit of Argentine history rounds out the believable plot, adding a bit of mystery and tension beyond Ellie's immediate world."
"There's a lot going on in this text, but the simple first-person narration will make the story accessible to readers who want an interesting story simply presented."