Sunday, May 21, 2023

Opinions and Opossums

Braden, Ann. Opinions and Opossums
May 2, 2023 by Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Agnes is being raised by a single mother who works hard at a local bank for Mr. Adams, who is very concerned not only that her mother dress in a professional manner, but that she AND Agnes attend church. Since Agnes is in 7th grade, this means an 8 week confirmation class also attended by his daughter, Miranda. Agnes is undergoing a lot of orthodontic work, and on her way to an appointment with the older neighbor who drives her, Gracy, the two stop and help an injured opossum. Gracy was an anthropologist who has many interests, and she shares her knowledge with Agnes. Previously, Agnes and her best friend Mo would get together and write amusing stories about abandoned shopping carts, but Agnes wants to concentrate instead on thoughts about the opossums, leading to a slight rift. The biggest issue is confirmation class, where Miranda wants the members, who include Tya and Jaclyn, to sign a statement saying they believe in God. Agnes isn't sure she does, at least not the old, white bearded guy mainline religion describes. She sees God as someone who looks more like Maya Angelou, which Miranda and her father think is blasphemy, which in turn causes Agnes' mother to be worried about her chances of promotion at the bank. Agnes wants to feel empowered about her own beliefs, and to wear the cool tank take that Mo gets her that says "God is a Woman", but as her mother points out "sometimes what you want isn't as important as what you need". Will Agnes find a way to be true to herself and to speak out with her own truth?
Strengths: This was under 200 pages, which is something I haven't been seeing much in middle grade, even though 30 years ago even YA books were about 150 pages. As someone who had to spend an entire year in confirmation class, eight weeks seems like a short time, but it was good to see this representation of tweens going to church. The small size of the class, however, also made sense. Agnes' questions about religion are reasonable and balanced nicely with the friend and family drama, as well as her anthropological dive into the world of opossums. It was good to see that things were on the upswing for Agnes and her mother at the end of the book. I wouldn't have minded a little bit more of the story; I was kind of curious about the grandmother's views of religion and how those affected the family. 
Weaknesses: Dressing professionally is not a bad thing. Hose aren't evil. My school's dress code is basically "Cover your private bits, if you don't mind," so I would love to see a return to more formal school outfits-- are jeans and t shirts really that much to ask? No, Agnes' shoulders shouldn't be seen as a distraction, and a tank top with wide straps is fine, but students are casual enough without them getting the message from books that even when they grow up they should be irritated with professional dress and that bosses who demand it are narrow minded and horrible. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like girl power titles with a philosophical bent like Firestone's Dress Coded or Dee's Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Fun fact: The church I took my children to for years before my daughter's Sunday school teacher told her I was going to hell required a THREE YEAR confirmation class in middle school but a six week one to join the church as adults. This book really spoke to me, because middle school confirmation class was definitely the start of my life long atheism. 

Ms. Yingling

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