Hobbs, Valerie. Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind
7 August 2012, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Nominated for the Cybils by Lalitha
Minnie is having a hard time adjusting to moving to a small town. Her father has lost his job as a lawyer and is having trouble finding work. Her mother is putting in long hours selling cars, her brother Dylan is just a jerk, and her Uncle Bill, who was injured fighting, is building a model of an Apache helicopter in the basement and not dealing well with PTSD. Minnie's 6th grade class has run off a number of teachers, but eventually ends up with Miss Marks, who is fresh out of school. Miss Marks tells them to ask questions, challenge what they know, and stand up for what they believe in. Minnie tries to ask some of the hard questions in her life that have been left unanswered, and starts to make friends with one of her classmates, Amira. When Miss Marks' unorthodox teaching methods get her into trouble, and Amira is the target of bullies, Minnie realizes that it's not only important to ask the hard questions, it's important to get them answered and to work to make things right.
Strengths: This was an intriguing problem novel that kept me interested. The juxtaposition between Minnie's uncle and Amira, whose family came to the US to escape war, is an interesting one. Minnie has several difficult situations in her life, but works through them in a realistic manner. I liked that Miss Marks was suspected of being a lesbian, and this caused outrage in the community, but Miss Marks herself refuses to identify herself one way or the other because it isn't anyone's business.
Weaknesses: I didn't like Miss Marks. Animal Farm, The Diary of Anne Frank, and To Kill a Mockingbird for 6th graders? And really, if the most important thing for her was to teach children and open their minds, why get stuck on wearing jeans, multiple piercings, and t shirts with slogans? Dress like a professional and then you have more of a chance to do the job without incurring the wrath of the public. Lead the revolution in a polo and khakis, I say!