Hubby got this for his sci-fi book club and recommended I give it a try, based on raves from all circles (critics, friends, etc.). And I do think it was good, but it wasn't great.
I think the reason lots of folks think it's great is because it pushes certain buttons.
a) The sci-fi/fantasy book club button. There is much spouting-off by the protagonist of names and actions from specific sci-fi or fantasy books- mostly classics since the book takes place in the 1970s. I knew about 60% of what she was saying when this happened. I can't imagine how irritating it would be for someone who hadn't read a lot of these books. And it's okay if you haven't read them! (Some of them are quite dated.)
b) The young adult button. Much blathering on about how awful school is, parents are, the food everywhere is (are all kids picky eaters, is that it?). So it fits the entire genre of teen-whinge-fest, of which there are many individual entries. It also fits inside the genre of children who have had horrible traumatic events happen to them- making for a great base for a story, of course.
c) The yes-Virginia-magic-exists button. Us fantasy lovers really, really love it when you are fed a world that seems so darn real (in this case, we actually lived through some of what our protagonist is living through) but has the added bit of magic being alive and well in that world. In this case, it's a bit more interesting since you can't quite tell if our young girl really does do magic or is making it up because of the traumatic horrible things she went through as a younger child.
All that aside, it reads very well. Walton has a good handle on the voice of this girl and that's hard to do. I didn't much enjoy the ending- what is it lately with endings that wrap things up in a neat bow? Plus it felt ever so slightly like, well, the wrong ending. I wonder if Walton had a few and chose one at the end.