Sunday, June 06, 2021

Simone Breaks All the Rules

Rigaud, Debbie. Simone Breaks All the Rules
June 3rd 2021 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Simone's Haitian immigrant parents are very strict; she and her sister Anne have to go to an all girls school that requires uniforms, aren't allowed to socialize in the same way that their peers do, and even have their prom dates arranged by their mother! Anne is at college now (NOT living on campus), and Simone is a senior. When her mother plans to set her up with the younger brother of Anne's prom date, she has had enough. It's bad that she can't tell her parents that she wants to live on campus when she attends nearby Rutgers, but to have an arranged date? No. She enlists her schoolmates Amita and Kira, who have their own overly controlling parents, to make a list of activities that they want to try to accomplish during their senior year. They aren't wild activities-- go to a party, ride bikes, go to New York City, and maybe kiss a boy-- but they are daring for the girls, whose parents are very interested in everything they do. Amita has a boyfriend, Pritpal, but her parents still expect her to go to prom with her cousin, Krish. Kira's parents are especially concerned about her social media usage, and tell her that she can go to prom, but that she should make a statement by going by herself. The girls, who are not used to bringing friends home, make small steps towards their freedom. Simone connects with Gavin, who attends the brother school to hers, and the two arrange to go to her prom together. Simone decides to bring her arranged date, Ben, in on the plan, and hopes that he will be willing to attend with Kira. The only problem? While Gavin is cute, interesting, and seems into Simone, Ben is ALSO cute, interested in projects that Simone finds appealing, and is steeped in the Haitian culture that Simone seems painfully distant from. How will the girls balance belly button piercings and fake tattoos with clubbing and hanging out with boys with the deeper issues of personal freedom and understanding with their parents?
Strengths: Ah, parents. Do any of us get it right? Add a layer of different cultural expectations, and modern teens just have even more to rail against. Anne and Simone are both smart, thoughtful girls who understand why their parents put strictures on their behavior, but still feel that these are unnecessary. I like that Simone does not plan to do anything that's bad for her, just things with which her parents disagree. That she finds like minded friends in Amita and Kira is quite fun, and outspoken cousin Gabby is a good foil. The New Jersey/New York Metropolitan area setting (is that the term?) is well described, although I could have used street names so I could have looked up the areas on Zillow! Both Gavin and Ben are good guys who care about Simone and understand the parental pressures she faces. I especially appreciated that the guy who did NOT go to prom with Simone was given his own romantic interest instead of just being ignored. Middle school students are enthralled with the idea of prom, and this was a great book to give them some insight on issues high schoolers can face when contemplating the event themselves. Sort of like an Emery's Sally and Jean Burnaby for the new millenium! 
Weaknesses: Since I'm used to middle grade length books, I could have done without quite such along list of activities, but they are all done extremely well. Since my readers who like romance books can go through a book a day, the length will not give them any pause!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for my fans of Kasey West and Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project. It's great to see these romantic "beach reads" with more cultural connections and settings that are quite different from the suburban Ohio ones my readers inhabit, especially ones that are more middle school appropriate when it comes to language and situations. Even as an adult, I don't like to read about alcohol and drug use or descriptive... physical situations. 

Ehrens, Pamela. Matasha
June 1st 2021 by Ig Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Matasha Wax lives with her parents in an apartment in mid-1970s Chicago. Her father is always working, and her mother is very busy with her volunteer work. They have a maid, Sunset, who used to be a nun and now lives in and takes care of the family. Matasha goes to a private school and struggles with her friends. She's very short for 6th grade, and her mother has her assessed and put on hormone shots. The mother is not happy, and has an idea to adopt a Vietnamese orphan. She even has the agency come over to interview the family, but the father is completely against the idea, since the mother tends to be flighty and give up on projects. Matasha likes the idea at first, but when a photograph of the first match looks "mean", and she finds out that she will have to trade her canopy bed for a bunk bed, she's less than thrilled. She finds out why her mother is so unhappy by snooping in her papers-- she's been corresponding with a man in Switzerland who wants the mother and Matasha to come and live with him. When the mother leaves, Matasha is worried, although her father is not. When the truth comes out that the mother has indeed gone to live in Switzerland, Matasha has to deal with the social fall out and find a way to be a family with just her father. 
Strengths: This had a lot of great period details; gold lame shoes, casual parenting, mentions of current events like the Watergate scandal, Patty Hearst, and Vietnamese refugees, and a interesting look at living in an apartment in Chicago. I can't think of any other middle grade book that addresses the issue of short stature aside from Sloan's Short, and it is a topic that affects middle school students. My brother was on hormone therapy because he entered high school at 4'10". The parents' fraught relationship and the mother's leaving put me in mind of another 1970s novel, Kalmar's Stealing Mt. Rushmore. Matasha's obsession with a local boy who had gone missing seems to fit in with the concerns of this time. 
Weaknesses: The cavalier treatment of the bunny, who was kept in a cage on the fire escape and whom Matasha frequently forgot to feed, was rather disturbing. At least she took better care of the cat that she got from a friend. 
What I really think: This was interesting, but read a bit more like an adult book than a middle grade one. 

Ms. Yingling

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