Vrabel, Beth. Pack of Dorks
October 7th 2014
by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Lucy and Becky are the most popular girls in their 4th grade class, but they work really hard at it, always coming up with a new idea to keep kids interested in them. After they plan to kiss Tom and Henry at recess-- and get fake diamond rings from the boys-- their popularity seems to be cemented. However, Lucy has to be out of school for several days after her mother has a baby. Lucy loves Molly, but her parents are worried because Molly has Down Syndrome, and they know the challenges she will face. When Lucy returns to school, Henry tells everyone that Tom is breaking up with Lucy because she stinks at kissing, and suddenly none of her friends will talk to her. She can either sit alone at lunch or make friends with social outcasts like April (who picks her nose) and Sam (who is just very quiet but has decent hygiene habits). She and Sam work together on a school project on wolves, and Lucy's family learns to deal with Molly and her needs.
Strengths: I can't think of any recent titles that cover a middle grade sibling dealing with the intellectual disability of a sibling, although I have had a number of students facing this reality. Lucy and her family are well developed characters, and her grandmother is great fun. Middle grade students frequently lose close friends to odd, socially motivated reasons, so this is realistic.
Weaknesses: Lucy's fall from grace seems abrupt, and the book is clearly message heavy. Also, for students older than 4th grade, the whole first chapter with kissing (focusing on the social acceptance and fear angles) will not be what they want-- those readers tend to prefer the Angela Darling type of romantic, if light, heart melting kiss. Preferably on a beach. At sunset.