Nancy J. Cavanaugh
This is the second chapter book that I’ve read from this year’s Texas Bluebonnet Award nominees, and I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than the first title that I read. Although I have to admit, you can’t really consider this a chapter book when there aren’t specific chapters in it. The book is more like a diary, with Abigail’s lists chronicling the majority of the events that happen. The word bubbles and slight graphics used throughout also help break up the text into different segments, even if there is never a specific chapter.
Summary: Abigail Walters looks forward to sixth grade as the chance to really begin her life. From the start, she has lofty aspirations of becoming a pompom girl, gaining the attention of boys, and finding popularity with the other “cool” kids. But, despite her best ambitions, a place on the pompom squad is not in Abigail’s future, and she finds herself as a mere alternate with a lot of spare time on her hands. Separated from her best friends Alli and Cami, Abigail finds herself not only not a pompom girl, but not even in the same homeroom or classes. instead, she’s paired with school outcast Gabby Marco on Old Hawk’s friendly letter assignment. As Abigail starts to realize that she has very little in common with AlliCam, she discovers that Gabby isn’t quite as bad as she first seemed. But when Abigail suddenly gets a chance to be a permanent member of the pompoms, she finds she must choose between what she’s always wanted and what she’s starting to become. Can she successfully navigate the middle school drama and find an answer she can live with?
What I Liked: Abigail’s quandary – choosing between popularity and what she feels like is the “right” thing to do – is something incredibly relevant. Cavanaugh does a great job of describing Abigail’s inner battle in a way that makes sense to the audience. Abigail can feel when she’s being a troll, without fully being able to articulate why she feels that way. The struggle presented between doing the right thing and being accepted is something that most girls can easily identify with, even if they aren’t cheerleaders in their own right. Unfortunately, it’s a topic that can be found in just about any school. As Abigail starts to feel the distance between herself and AlliCam, the reader also starts to discover some of the politics and hard decisions of popularity. Because Abigail has so many “normal” experiences – sleepovers, going out to eat with friends, being paired up for a class assignment – the reader is able to see her own situations and experiences in Abigail’s story.
What I Didn’t Like: Although Abigail’s list-making was often entertaining, I didn’t like that the book didn’t have clear divisions between parts. Sometimes it was hard to tell how many days had passed or when events were supposed to have taken place. Although the book covers the span of an entire year, it is unclear throughout the book how much time elapses between events. Also, Abigail’s end choice seems very dramatic. Instead of finding a way to successfully navigate the two worlds that she wants to inhabit, she is forced to choose between one or the other. Popularity or Gabby – there is no middle ground. While I appreciate that this makes Abigail’s decision more dramatic (and emphasizes the importance of making one’s own decisions and doing the right thing), it also seems somewhat unrealistic. Why couldn’t Abigail be an influence for good with the pompom girls? Having such a strict division between the “good” and the “bad” in the story undermined some of the overall message. I think we all know that no one (not even Gabby Marco or AlliCam) is completely good or bad, but in the book, the characters are only given one dimension. However, the choice between doing what is popular and doing what is right is the more important element of the story, and that is clearly and effectively conveyed.
Overall Feeling: This book is an enjoyable read, and definitely has a relevant and relatable subject. Abigail, although sometimes obnoxiously simplistic in her thinking (and very genuinely girly in her approach to some topics), is an endearing character that the reader quickly comes to love. Her struggle to discover herself, even if it means addressing the uglier parts of her character, is one that we can all relate to, and doing so in the context of middle school makes her even more realistic. While I doubt that many boys will be interested in this particular title, I think the girls will definitely appreciate both the plot and the characters. The almost-diary approach of Abigail’s list is also likely to appeal to even reluctant readers, because it breaks the text into small chunks that can be read quickly. You can read as much or as little of the book in one sitting as you like, depending on how many lists you want to explore. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore what it means to be a good friend.