Saturday, June 04, 2022

Join the Club, Maggie Diaz and Just Dance (Whatever After #15)

Moreno, Nina and Lovett, Courtney (Illus.). Join the Club, Maggie Diaz
May 17th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

As Maggie starts middle school, she's not sure what her interests are. When her good friends Zoey and Julian get involved with their own activities, she feels even more pressure to find out what her passion might be. She also really wants a cell phone, and her parents promise she can have one if her grades are good. Things at home are fine, but quite different now that her abuela has moved in with the family after her husband's death, and Maggie has a six month ofld brother. Not only that, but her mother is determined to finish up her accounting degree, which means that Maggie has to step up to help around the house, especially when her father has a job that takes him out of town for extended periods of time. Older sister Caro runs cross country, and is busy with high school, so Maggie starts investigating all of the clubs at school. She starts with Futue Leaders, tries gardening, wood shop, and other activities, and also tries to support her friends. She has trouble focusing on any one thing, and time management is a struggle, which leads to poor grades. Since she won't get a phone unless she improves these, she tries a new tactic, joining cross country late in the season. 
Strengths: Part Elle of the Ball , part Calli Be Gold, this is a realistically humorous look at one girl's attempts to have a great middle school experience. Maggie does a great job at trying new things, but clearly needs a lot more support to figure out how to navigate all of her new activities. It's easy to forget that not all students have support at home even if things are generally good-- her family is busy with other activities, and since Maggie isn't really a problem, it's easy to forget that she needs help. Caro does step in to defend her sister, and things ease up a bit when the father is home, but families can be very busy! Maggie's frustration with having a smart watch with GPS so her parents can know where she is will ring true, as will her floundering with lots of different activities in order to find one that works. The illustrations in the E ARC aren't finished, but will add a lot to the final book, making this a good choice for the many middle grade readers who only want to read books with pictures. 
Weaknesses: This seemed a tiny bit young for reasons I can't quite elucidate, and I can't see how Maggie would be allowed on the cross country team for just the final race of the year, or how she would leave the course in the middle of the race to go somewhere else. I coached cross country for nine years, and can't imagine that ever happening, although it does of course make for a funny scene. As a librarian, I took a little umbrage at the service group working in the library "to weed out old books that stink like mildew and shelve new ones" since I spend an inordinate amount of time smelling books in my library, and the worst smell mine accheive is "grandma's living room".
What I really think: I will probably buy this for fans of Nat Enough and Invisible Emmie, since it is upbeat and has Kids Doing Things, although I wish there were some books about students juggling activities with boys as the main characters, or that followed boy and girl siblings who were closer in age. Try as I might, even if I recommend this book to boy readers, many will not pick it up just because a girl is on the cover. 

It is with a certain grim determination that I write reviews of books further along in series. I've been getting most of the Whatever After books from Young Adult Books Central in exchange for reviewing them, which made me feel slightly less guilty about continuing to buy the series. Just yesterday a 6th grader checked out book 6 and 7, but books in a series after book five usually don't circulate well, which makes me feel guilty that I'm not spending money well. Anyone else feel that way? At this point, I feel like I am into this until the bitter end, which was NOT at the end of this book. There's another super special, and at least one more regular volume. Can we please finish this up? I love them, but the massive series aspect is worrisome, especially looking ten years down the road when I end up weeding a shelf and a half of books. 

Mlynowski, Sarah. Just Dance (Whatever After #15)
June 7th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby is leery of going to the fifth grade dance, especially after The Incident at a friend's bar mitvah that ended in a huge crash and children falling everywhere. Some of her friends are supportive, but Penny, of course, claims that Abby doesn't want to go because she has nothing to wear. With Maryrose fading fast and spending most of her time sleeping in the jewelry box, Abby is eager to get back to a fairy tale and save the fairy. When Maryrose wants her to travel to a location and retrieve a ruby, Abby and Jonah head off and find themselves in a castle with twelve princesses. Their father is tired of replacing their shoes every night, so has set a challenge to the princes in the land to discover their secret and win the kingdom and a princess, along with the crown with the ruby that Abby wants. The prince trying this is not very bright, but Abby and Jonah work with him and have a deal. They discover what the princesses are doing and provide proof, and he will give them the ruby. Abby must find a local fairy to give her an invisibility cloak, and soon she and Jonah find that the princesses are going to a Dance Resistance Party, since their father has banned all dancing but ballet. The princesses, who are all called by numbers by their father, although they have given each other names, have their own interests that they are unable to pursue. When a ballet recital coincides with a chess tournament, one of the princesses has Abby take her place in the ballet so that she can play chess. Abby is worried, but this gives her the confidence to consider going to the dance back home. She and Jonah feel bad about blowing the princesses cover, but the father is open to suggestions that make their lives better. The ruby helps Maryrose, but we still don't know when she will be able to go home and wrap up this series. 
Strengths: I liked how Abby's fear of dancingin public was helped by her adventure in a fairy tale. Her continuing good relationship with Jonah is good to see. There is a moment when the two worry that Maryrose will take their dog Prince when she leaves, since Prince stays home during this adventure to watch her, but we do find that she has no such intentions. These books are all quick, fun reads, and I enjoy watching my readers zip through a book or two each night while they are invested in the story. 
Weaknesses: While the prince solving a situation and winning the kingdom and a princess is certainly a very standard fairy tale trope, it doesn't play especially well in 2022, although the princess who is "won" does at least like the prince.
What I really think: I loved Mlynowski's Gimme a Call so much that I wish she would finish this series and go back to writing outstanding stand alone titles! 

Ms. Yingling

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