Schneider, Robyn. The Beginning of Everything
August 27th 2013, Katherine Tegen
Ezra starts his senior year in high school having lost everything that makes him feel like himself. Right before the prom in the spring, he was in a bad car accident that shattered his knee, ended his tennis career, and effectually ended his relationship with Charlotte, which was over anyway. His old jock and student government friends don't talk to him, but old friend Toby, who is a social pariah after a freak accident years ago, invites Ezra into his world of debate team. There, Ezra meets Cassidy, who has transferred from a private school, where she was a stand out on the debate team. The group hangs out together, Ezra and Cassidy start dating, and Ezra has to figure out who he is now. When Cassidy doesn't show up for prom, Ezra finds out more about her past, and how it is entwined with his own, coming to the conclusion that is stated in the first lines of the book: "Sometimes I think everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, that people buying milk in their pajamas or picking their noses at stoplights could be only moments away from disaster."
Strengths: This was very Sonnenblick-esque, with tragic moments described in really cleverly funny ways. (Page 99: "Yes! And heavenly cherubs will play tiny ukeleles of joy and you will lay incesnse and confierous fruits at my altar." Don't know why that phrase made me snort so much.) I knew that this would not be a middle grade novel, but I was so taken by all the characters that I had to finish reading it. I think I had a bit of a book crush on Ezra, who goes on such a wonderful voyage of self discovery, and I kind of wanted to be Cassidy. If I had a high school library, I would definitely buy it.
Weaknesses: A couple of f-bombs, drinking, and way too much sex for middle grade. I also highly doubted that the faculty chaperone for the debate team would have allowed such carousing in the hotel, or that the students would have gotten a budget for eating out. MY time on the school speech team was that exciting!
Miles, Betty. The Real Me.
August 12th 1974
by Random House, Inc.
Saw the review of Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989 at a very fortuitous time-- I had a class of students reading historical fiction, and couldn't find anything that really reflected the 1970s the way I remembered it. Since I still own two of Miles' titles I bought in middle school, I knew this would be good. Believe it or not, I own very few books from my own middle grade years.
Barbara Fisher is a 6th grader who lives in a smallish Midwestern suburb with her basketball playing brother, elementary principal father, and a mother who has just gone back to work as a reporter for the local paper. School is going okay, but Barbara is dismayed over the choices available for girls when it comes to gym classes. She ends up in Slimnastics, even though she wants to play tennis; after all, as a teacher points out, she could benefit from Slimnastics because she has a "bit of a tummy" and could maybe become graceful enough to become a cheerleader for the tennis team, which only has boys on it. Add to the general discrimination of the era the fact that her brother wants to give up his paper route, and while Barbara has been successfully pitching in for several weeks, girls are NOT ALLOWED to do paper routes. No reason. Just the way it is.
Barbara is not going to give up, though, even when people in school think she is a nut for circulating a petition to change the way gym classes are set up. She tries to get people on her route to write her references, and while some offer glowing ones, others agree that girls would rather stay at home, gossip and do their nails rather than faithfully deliver the papers. Her mother also causes a splash by writing an article in the paper about how many fashion shows are given in the town when there is plenty of volunteer work to do. Of course, this results in letters to the editor about how Ms. Fisher should be at home instead of abandoning her family. Eventually, the state governor decides to allow girls to carry newspapers, and the school decides to keep up with the times and change the gym classes as well.
Strengths: Readers today are just not going to believe that this was real. "Go, You Chicken Fat Go" played in school? Girls not being allowed to do what they want? An 11 year old making chops, peas and a salad for dinner without a microwave, take out, or prepackaged food? And what's with the letter writing, newspaper, and telephones connected to the wall? Barbara's father's school has also been turned into a open classroom concept, which the Fishers think is great, but which is getting complaints from parents. This is really quite a brilliant book. Ms. Miles was considered rather forward thinking for her time, and I think this book holds up very well-- if as historical fiction. The Gibraltar Bound copy I purchases is slightly worse for the wear, but I'm putting it into the collection.
Weaknesses: While handled with grace and tact for the time period, it's awkward to read about Barbara's black friend Angela now. Barbara truly likes Angela, who must be one of the few black students in the school. It's addressed that Angela doesn't just want to be Barbara's "black friend", but I think that today
people are supposed to be completely color blind and not talk about this sort of thing.