Thursday, October 11, 2012

Unhappy Girls

The Second Life of Abigail WalkerDowell, Frances O'Roark. The Second Life of Abigail Walker.
28 August 2012, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Abby is having trouble at home and at school. At home, her mother is distracted reading history and her father is either working or harping on Abby's weight. At school, her frenemies Kristen and Georgia subtly torture her-- calling her names, stealing her lunch out of her locker, and going behind her back to arrange get togethers with Abby's mother, so that Abby has to be with them. When she is bitten gently by a fox in an abadoned lot, Abby takes this as a sign that she needs to change. She takes solace in being outdoors, and during one of her walks, she follows a dog that leads her to Anders. Anders lives with his grandmother on a farm while his father is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder after having served in the military. He's trying to write a poem about the animals that Lewis and Clark discovered on their exploration, and Abby is soon helping him research. She finds new friends in Anoop and Jafar, and eventually Marlys, who also takes refuge in the computer lab during lunch, and is eventually able to stand up to Kristen and Georgia, having gained strength by helping Anders and his family.
Strengths: This is what middle school bullying looks like. The girls secretly record Abby eating candy bars and threaten to put it on YouTube. They get her locker number by telling her mom they have a surprise planned to put in her locker. They call her names like Tubby. Abby isn't fat, but she is a little overweight, and this is realistically portrayed and will speak to many middle school girls.
Weaknesses: The recurring image of the fox is not going to draw girls in, especially in the first chapter where the fox is described as "ancient of days" and never dying. There are several small chapters devoted to the fox and its dreams, and at the end, the fox tells Crow the story and then "leaped into the invisible air" to find another one. This didn't seem to fit with the rest of a very good story about bullying. I was also fairly put off by the parents' negative involvement-- they not only are harsh with Abby about their weight, but force her to be with the bullies against her will.

The Humming RoomPotter, Ellen. The Humming Room.
28 February 2012, Feiwel and Friends.
Nominated for the Cybils by Suzanne Santillan

Roo's drug dealing parents are killed, and she is shunted off to a foster home briefly before being taken into the care of an uncle she has never met. The uncle is reclusive and lives on a small, remote island with fairly forbidding household staff, but Roo is glad to be somewhere safe for a while. She hears odd noises in the house, and finds odd things-- the house had been a children's tuberculosis hospital for many years, so she thinks maybe there are ghosts. Still, she blossoms under the care of a tutor she doesn't want, and the remote attention of her uncle (i.e.: he doesn't talk to her, but orders clothes for her that are just like her worn out ones but nicer). She also enjoys being on the island, and solving small mysteries as they arise. There are bigger mysteries afoot, however, but solving them may mean that she has to go back into foster care. Inspired by The Secret Garden.
Strengths: Great beginning- my students love books about murder and drug dealing! The house and island are well described, and the characters are described with rich detail.
Weaknesses: Not a lot happens. The mystery was a bit of a let down, and most of the book involves Roo wandering around a bit despondently. To quote Betsy Bird, this is a bit "Penderwickish".

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