Every summer John flies to Los Angeles for his visit with Dad. But one week a year isn't a lot of time for father/son bonding, particularly when your father is a workaholic who never seems to have time for his son. Not to mention that Dad always has a new girlfriend hanging around. In the past it's been near impossible to grab some quality time with his father, but this summer John refuses to give up. He's sick of feeling like a stranger in "Dadland."
Describing a 12-year-old boy's relationship with his divorced, workaholic father, Koss (The Girls) offers witty commentary on the foibles and pretensions of adults, but her story line lacks the punch of her previous novels. John, the narrator, has always spent the annual week in "Dadland" with his older sister, Liz, but this year Liz has stayed home, refusing to be disappointed again by their "Phantom Father." As he flies alone from Kansas to Los Angeles, John hopes his father won't spend the entire visit in meetings or with yet another girlfriend. But right away Dad introduces a new girlfriend (who paints on her eyebrows, cracks gum and sings along to embarrassing Musak) and then he disappears for a day's worth of appointments. Dad can't even offer a word of comfort when Mom calls with the news that John's dog has died. By phone, Liz switches from angry to wise, counseling John that perhaps their dad "wants to be a good father but he's just entirely clueless." Koss is hilarious on Los Angeles, the behavior of people in office buildings and the adults' preoccupations with hot restaurants, expensive cars, etc., and John's delivery proves once again the author's unusual insight into middle-graders and their concerns. In the end, however, she lets the father off far too easily and whitewashes the well-built conflicts. Ages 10-up.