Jackson Jones has no idea what he's gotten into when he agrees to tend the Mrs. Nelson's apple orchard, but anything has to be better than working at the scrap yard...right? Quickly realizing the futility of endeavoring alone, Jackson recruits his sisters and cousins to help him after school and on Saturdays tending to the orchard. From February through September, the kids work diligently--pruning the branches, fertilizing the soil, watering (not an easy task in dry New Mexico), spraying pesticides, thinning the apples, and eventually picking. The kids make it through the entire process and even forgive Jackson when he finally reveals to them the terms of his contract with Mrs. Nelson--that she gets $8000 of the profits and Jackson gets the orchard if he can make at least that much.
I really enjoyed this book overall. There were very, very few moments when I wanted to skim over the prose to "get on to" the next part. The main character, Jackson, is a fairly well-developed, dynamic character that the reader can easily sympathize with. Hamilton does a good job placing the story in time without ever actually coming out and saying when exactly it takes place. From pop culture references to "The A-Team" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," the observant reader can place the story in the 1980s. However, the story holds the same significance whether one catches onto these context clues or not. Each character has a distinct personality that adds to the story. The development of the rugged band of cousins and siblings into a team displays the value of teamwork and the role that each person plays.
I think that this is a book that middle grade boys would enjoy quite a bit. I wouldn't discredit it as a book for girls, since there are prominent female characters, but it is not as "girly" of a story-line as many young girls might enjoy. The diagrams included by the author may seem tedious to some readers who aren't as interested in the farming aspects of the story. I would recommend this book for age 10 and up.