Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Paris Project

Gephart, Donna. The Paris Project
October 8th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young
ARC provided by the publisher

Cleveland is bound and determined to leave stifling Sassafras, Florida and   move to Paris, France, hopefully to attend the American School there. She has a list of things she needs to do to get ready for her adventures. Unfortunately, her first task-- to study ballet-- does not go well at all, and she is kicked out of the school! Undeterred, she keeps learning French from a library CD and hopes that her best friend and neighbor in the trailer park, Declan, will help her with her French cooking skills. It's good to have something to focus on, because her father is in prison for stealing money from his employer. He had also stolen Cleveland's Paris fund that she had acquired through her dog walking enterprise, and used all of the money for gambling. While she is angry, Cleveland misses her father, and is worried that her mother is having to work too much. Cleveland's sister, Georgia, is applying to the University of Vermont in order to escape life in Florida, and Cleveland knows that she will miss her supportive sister. Things are a little rocky with Declan as well, since he has become friends with Todd, whose father was responsible for her father's arrest. When she realizes that Declan like likes Todd, she is hurt that her best friend didn't trust her enough to tell her he was gay, but she understands how hard it is for her friend, and she tries to be nice to Todd. Her father's release is a good thing, but the family also worries that he will fall back into his gambling ways. Georgia doesn't get into the University of Vermont, she is devastated and uses her savings to take her mother and sister to a Parisian themed fancy hotel in California while their father stays at home to look for work. The vacation is a nice break, and things start to improve at school for Cleveland, making her feel a little better about not being able to go to Paris for school.
Strengths: Books where tweens do things and have ambitions are fantastic, and Cleveland's desire to go to Paris to live really resonated with me! It took me until I was 40 to get to London, but I started planning to go when I was Cleveland's age! While her plan isn't completely realistic, she has short terms goals to work towards, and she saves her money. The inclusion of more serious issues, like her father's imprisonment and gambling, as well as Declan's sexual identity, works well as a foil to Cleveland's sometimes ill-advised schemes and are treated with sensitivity. Georgia and Cleveland's mother are very supportive, as is her father, even though he has his own problems. Cleveland has to deal with some fall out of her father's local notoriety at school, but eventually is able to stand up to people who give her a hard time, and she does make a new friend. All in all, a fun and informative book.
Weaknesses: Starting out with Cleveland's tragicomic ballet experience was a good way to draw me in to the story, but also made me think that the story would be goofier than it ended up being.
What I really think: This was a great combination of humorous, realistic experiences and social justice issues, which will make is appeal to a wide variety of readers. The cover is fun as well. I just wish I didn't have to wait until October to hand this to students. (I'm writing this post June 6!)

Ms. Yingling

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