“The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister” by Maine writer Charlotte Agell of Brunswick is a burst of joy for readers ages 8 to 11 and for all who travel with them into its pages. I loved it. And I haven’t been 11 years old for a long time.

No matter. India McAllister, a 9-year-old girl who lives in a small town called Wolfgang, Maine, flashes into a reader’s life like an unexpected vista of sparkling fall foliage. And like that foliage, she is a force of nature who has a story to tell.

One of the best things about Agell’s book is that India doesn’t conjure up fantastic tales of adventures in far-off lands with princes, servant girls and nameless castaways. But far-off places have a role in her story.

Unlike the other children in her school, India was adopted as a baby from China, making her unique in her rural Maine environment. For some reason, too, her background seems to heighten her sensitivity. It helps encourages adventure. And that’s just fine with her.

It also helps that India’s mother is an artist, unhampered by rigid attitudes about raising kids, cleaning house or anything else. She is also divorced, with India’s father living now in a nearby community with Richard, his partner and a person India is trying to integrate into her life.

All of these aspects of living, explained to us by India in painstaking detail using both words and exuberant drawings, keep a 9-year-old girl plenty busy. So, too, does her spritely dog Tofu, a hero waiting for his chance at greatness, and Richard’s visiting cockatiel, Beatrice Strawberry Bird. Add in the complications of human friendships, and India’s life is full to the brim.

One of the factors that makes Agell’s book so appealing is the down-home ordinariness of its Maine setting. A trip to Camden becomes as exotic as a trip to the moon. The marginal differences in people’s lives offer intriguing and humorous contrasts to her young eyes.

There is, for instance, “clean-the-house-day,” which arrives every Saturday at the home of Colby, the boy who has been India’s best friend, as she tells us, since they were in diapers.

“Mom and I never have those,” India explains. “We have a huge house with only two people and one dog, so it swallows up the clutter and mess pretty well (except for Tofu’s fur when he sheds, and that’s most of the time). Colby has a tiny house with six kids, two grown-ups and three cats, so they all have to pitch in.”

To buttress the point, India fills out three-quarters of a page with “a typical square foot or so of floor space at Colby’s” that includes whimsical drawings of items as varied as a sports magazine, a partly eaten apple, a purple hairbrush and Morgana, the family’s “very wacky cat.”

The book appeals to many layers of a reader’s awareness, especially when that reader is just getting used to chapter books. Love is there in quantity and so is fear, notably when India is lost in the woods at a time when wintry weather threatens the unprepared.

From art that details India’s “slippers that I have loved and lost” to the tension that arises when her friend Colby enters a deepening friendship with another girl in India’s class, “The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister” gives us a good perspective on how the world looks and, more important, how it feels to this girl on the edge of her second decade of life.

Agell brings to her pages a varied childhood of her own. Born in Norsjo, Sweden, described as a “very small town not too far from the Arctic Circle,” she subsequently lived in Montreal and Hong Kong before coming to Bowdoin College in 1977.

It’s our good fortune she has chosen to encourage spritely characters like India McAllister to take root in Maine. 

Nancy Grape is a freelance writer who writes book reviews for the Maine Sunday Telegram.