Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away
by Meg Medina, illus. by Sonia Sánchez
Daniela and her "número uno best friend" Evelyn del Rey share one last, bittersweet playdate as neighbors in this reflective and spirited tribute to lasting friendship, written by Newbery Award winner Meg Medina (Merci Suárez Changes Gears) and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez (Green Green), who received an Eisner Award nomination for her debut picture book, Here I Am. Grounded in a situation many children will face, the simple, elegant prose and richly textured art also expresses and validates the experiences of children in close-knit urban communities.
Daniela, a tawny child with scribbled twin buns and charmingly oversized round glasses, cuddles her guinea pig in her room. "Just like today is any other day," Evelyn, an umber-hued girl with spirals of black hair crowned by a chunky twist, calls from her window in the next building for Daniela to come play. Once outside, Daniela can see evidence of how today is different: a cavernous moving truck sits at the curb in a bank of orange and yellow autumn leaves, "ready to gobble up Evelyn's mirror with the stickers around the edge, her easel for painting on rainy days, and the sofa that we bounce on to get to the moon." Once inside Evelyn's building, though, the girls race up the steps and down the hall with its chambray-and-white patterned walls "just like we always do." Neighbors pop out to feed pigeons from the window, grouse or offer cookies in honor of "the big day."
While the girls play and Evelyn's mother shifts boxes, Daniela reflects, "Our apartments are almost twins, just like us." She muses about their surface differences and core similarities on a spread that shows Daniela in her green and "pink like cotton candy" room and Evelyn in her blue and "sunny yellow" room, sending a doll back and forth via a string through their open windows. Even though they have different family structures, Daniela knows "we are mostly the same... But not after today." Even though they use an empty box and their imaginations to build a blue-toned city and sail its harbor, soon, "when we look around, everything has disappeared except us." Daniela must face the truth that tomorrow "Evelyn will be in a new home that doesn't match mine." This devastating acknowledgment is shown on a lush, double-page spread. On the left, there is an exterior view of Daniela looking out the window of her red brick building at orange and yellow beech foliage while, on the right, Evelyn sits on a porch amid palm fronds in a coral sundress. The book's gutter disappears almost completely as it lines up with the edge of Daniela's building and is covered by autumn leaves.
The girls press sparkly stickers to each other's cheeks and promise to visit, but after one last photo, secret handshake and hug, reality hits home: "Evelyn del Rey is moving away." Daniela's face scrunches in palpable grief as Evelyn climbs into a van with her mami and papi. While the day ends on a heartrending note, with Evelyn fighting tears in the backseat of the van and Daniela crying on Mami's shoulder, a touching surprise awaits readers on the last page. Although "Mami says not to be sad, that we will both make new friends," Daniela knows Evelyn del Rey "will always be my first mejor amiga." The final page turn validates her loyalty and confidence as it reveals Daniela several years in the future, still sporting oversized round spectacles, her puffy twin buns a smooth single unit. She sits on the floor of her pink-and-green bedroom, a chest on an ottoman in front of her spilling out a strand of beads, a photo of Evelyn and what appear to be years of letters from "the one I will always know by heart." The peaceful smile on her face as she reads one of Evelyn's letters provides a warm, uplifting coda that suggests love can conquer separation.
Evelyn del Rey Is Moving Away is an introspective yet powerful treatment of a common childhood occurrence. Medina says that when writing for children, "less is more"; she wanted to invite readers "into the experience and let it speak for itself." By offering little direct reference to emotion in the narrative, she allows readers room to practice empathy and take their own emotional journeys. Daniela's internal monologue strikes a compelling balance between believable childhood diction, with words like "gobble" and "grouchy" and mature hints of quiet sadness as she returns repeatedly to thoughts of grief's companion, change. Her contemplative nature and depth of feeling make the resolution's implication of lifelong friendship that much more credible.
In her digitally created illustrations, Sánchez makes use of loose lines, texture and gorgeous, interesting patterns, her playful raspberry-pink botanicals and sophisticated trellises giving a vintage vibe to the building interiors. But it's her impeccable facial expressions that earn the spotlight. In fact, after Medina received Sánchez's sketches, she further streamlined her lean text to give space to the bounty of emotion. The girls' feelings shine in their every expression: Evelyn's serene smile, the tear-jerker moment when Daniela surrenders to sadness. Filled with relatable moments and the closeness that blooms in urban settings, this gentle yet realistic love song to best friends and resiliency will speak to many hearts. --Jaclyn Fulwood