Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen

Lenz, Niki. Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen
March 26th 2019 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Bernice lives in the Lone Star Trailer Park in Kansas City with her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and her four brothers, all of whom were named after the Hollywood stars their different fathers resembled. Her brother's steal things and wander the neighborhood blowing things up, and her mother stops by school to take back Bernice's lunch money so she can pay for her next tattoo. Unsurprisingly, Bernice has few friends and is somewhat of a bully, using her larger size to make even students like Oliver (whom she wishes would be her friend, since he is nice and smells like name-brand laundry detergent) feel uncomfortable. Her only real ally is Ms. Knightley, the local librarian, who compliments Bernice's research skills. Bernice wants to be a stunt man, and is trying to save up for camp, even starting an online collection for an imaginary dog in order to get the funding. When her mother finds out about the money, she steals it and decides to take off to Hollywood to try to make it on a reality television show. The brothers are left to their own devices at the trailer park, but Bernice is packed off to her aunt, who is a fully habited nun living in a convent. Bernice tries to make the best of the situation (although the convent has a decided lack of junk food and television), and tries to behave herself at school, but she runs afoul of the rich mayor's daughter, Imogene, who just pretends to be nice to Bernice in front of their teacher, since she wants to win a helpful student contest. Bernice does find a friend in Francie, but goes back and forth between her old ways (stealing money from a collection plate so she can go to stunt camp, baking a pie with laxatives in it) and trying to improve her outlook. When her mother reappears and wants Bernice to come and live with her again, will Bernice decide to return, or has she found her true home with her aunt?
Strengths: There is something irresistibly appealing about a truly bad character who decides to try for redemption, and Bernice is rightfully compared to Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins or Beasley's Gertie's Leap to Greatness. Her life has been difficult, but she knows the way she is supposed to act, and when she is surrounded by kindness, she rises to the higher expectations. The convent is a different sort of setting, but the aunt clearly loves Bernice, despite her challenges. It's nice to see a character struggle with baser instincts and be able to chose the right path. This was an amusing, quick read that was well written and engaging.
Weaknesses: My grandparents lived in a trailer park, so the over-the-top stereotypical depiction of the Buttmans was hurtful. Had standard stereotypes been applied to another cultural group, this would not have been acceptable.
What I really think: I think this would appeal to a slightly younger crowd, so I will send it on to the elementary school. It just made me sad, thinking about my grandparents. Ann Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus Ellis's You May Already Be a Winner or Walker's Why Can't I Be You are much more realistic depictions of people living in trailer parks.

Ms. Yingling

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