Monday, May 16, 2022

Best Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Wientge, Kristi. Best Friends, Bikinis, and Other Summer Catastrophes
May 17th 2022 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alex and Will are neighbors and have been friends forever. For Alex, Will is more like a fourth brother (she has an annoying older one who doesn't do his share around the house, and two loud younger ones), and they spend a lot of time planning to build a treehouse and hanging out at the pool. When classmate Rebekah approaches them at the pool one day, Alex is not happy to see that Will lights up in her presence and wants to impress her, even if it means leaving Alex abruptly. Rebekah wears a bikini and makes her friend seem very different. Alex isn't jealous; she's worried. She and Will decide to finally build their own treehouse, and line up work doing odd jobs for neighbors, like painting Ms. Tanner's garage door or picking up dog poop for another neighbor. They slowly save their money so that Alex's father, a contractor, can help them buy additional supplies. When Will insists that they bike all the way to a fancier neighborhood to try to line up jobs, Alex isn't happy to realize that one of the houses they approach is where Alex lives. She's even less thrilled that Rebekah is in the babysitting class her parents are forcing her to take before they will pay her for watching her younger brothers. Rebekah is really nice to her, though, and really seems to want to be her friend, too. She even understands why it's so hard to watch her widowed grandfather hanging out with Ms. Tanner. As the summer progresses and Will and Rebekah spend more time together, will Alex be able to navigate the new nature of her friendships?  
Strengths: I would LOVE to see a sequel of this one, and I'm not a huge fan of series. It reminded me in the best way of Anne Emery's Dinny Gordon or Weber's Beany Malone. Alex has a lot of autonomy because her mother is a therapist who works from home, and she is allowed to make her own way around her Illinois neighborhood in an updated and realistic way. The babysitting course is great, and it's fun that Will's mother runs the concession stand at the pool. Alex has to step in to help at home a lot, and the tension between her older brother, who works outside the home and doesn't feel like he needs to help out at home. The fact that Will and Alex know that building a tree house will involve the cost of more than just scrap lumber is great, and the way they go about looking for work is perfect. I would have let my own children proceed in this manner. With all of that good stuff, it gets even better when Rebekah enters the scene. She's NOT a mean girl, and does try to include Alex when she approaches Will, but Alex is the one who isn't very nice. Of course, her jealousy is understandable and complicated; she's not interested in Will romantically, but doesn't want to lose him. Rebekah really tries to befriend Alex, and eventually does voice her frustration, and the two work things out. Then, there's the whole issue with Ms. Tanner and Pops... so, so good! 
Weaknesses: I am not at all a fan of the cover. It's too... pastel. It should involve more green (and perhaps a treehouse), since the kids spend so much time outside. The title makes it sound like a really girly title, and I would love to see the boys in my school read this one, too. I know, I know; all books for all children, but a different cover would really help me convince some of my readers of this. 
What I really think: Definitely buying a copy and can't wait to hand this to students. I wish I could see more books like this, where children have agency and interests and face smaller but important problems with support and optimism. 


  1. This must be a good book if you want a sequel. I love pastel colors but agree with you on the cover. Thanks for sharing this book with us this week.

  2. I was already avoiding this book given the cover and title, but you convinced me otherwise. A lot of drama to balance out my preferred focus on humor. Thanks for being a part of MMGM.

  3. Sounds a good read but I totally agree with you, both the title and the cover would deter from picking it up!

  4. Thanks for the heads up Karen. I've added this to my list.

  5. The pastel colors would put me off as well, but this sounds like a good book! I'll have to check it out.

  6. I haven't seen this book before (probably because I dropped off the face of the blogosphere for a few weeks), but it looks like a really compelling read with a lot of depth! Also, about the book sounding girly, I have a million opinions and will take a chance to voice them—in an ideal world, kids of all gender identities wouldn't care what they're reading about (and we can and should try to get them to feel that way!), but we also can't erase an entire world's worth of socialization that they've already experienced, so it's fair that a different cover/title might make this an easier sell to boy readers! I would just hope, one day, that wouldn't be an issue anymore. Thanks so much for the wonderful post (and the chance to rant), Karen!

    1. I feel the same way, but I still have boys back away from me when I try to hand them Hamster Princess. We have to meet young readers where they are, and while that has changed a bit, I still feel this cover could have been more successful. Thanks for the rant!

  7. This does look like a fun read. Thanks for sharing!

  8. This sounds like a really good book. I will have to check it out. I like a good platonic friendship story.