Sunday, May 26, 2024

Something Maybe Magnificent

Toalson, R.L. Something Maybe Magnificent
May 28, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the summer of 1994, a year after The First Magnificent Summer, Victoria is staying at home with her mother, older brother Jack, and younger sister Maggie because her father has declined having them visit him and his new family. Her mother struggles financially, but owns her own home. Victoria's father hasn't been in contact since their disastrous summer, and hasn't even sent child support, so there's a general lack of clothing and food, something that is occasionally remedied by Meemaw, who drives regularly from Houston to visit and bring junk food. Victoria is still obsessed with writing and reading authors like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, and we see her thoughts expressed in poetry and magazine style quizzes as well as her journaling. She has a new hobby, running, and when she is out one morning, meets a neighbor boy her age, Eli. Eli lives with his stepfather, but seems to like him, something that Victoria can't understand. Her own mother has been dating Kyle for a while, and she hates his presence, even though he brings pizza once a week, spends time interacting in a positive way with the children, and even rebuilds the front steps of the house. Victoria enjoys Eli's attention, and frequently runs with him, although she is very busy cleaning the house, making sure her siblings are safe, and trying to conserve the scant food her mother supplies. She also struggles with puberty, and is very angry about it, thinking a lot about the problems that her Visitor causes. When her mother announces that she and Kyle are going to be married in November, Victoria rallies her siblings around her and embarks on a well-thought-out and mean-spirited plan to scare Kyle off, even though he even buys her products to take care of her skin after her use of peroxide on her face accidentally bleaches her bangs. Kyle laughs off most of the pranks, but when Victoria punches him and says she hates him after his dog attacks her dog in an initial meeting of the two, Kyle finally leaves. Will Victoria be able to make peace with the way her family is changing, and realize that her father is never going to reenter the picture, no matter what happens with Kyle?
Strengths: This is a snapshot of how some families operated in the 1990s; tween children were left alone all day in the summer, menstruation wasn't discussed even with one's own mother unless absolutely necessary, and more mental health support was given by Seventeen Magazine than by adults in children's lives. Kyle was actually a VERY understanding boyfriend who made enormous efforts to ingratiate himself with not only Victoria's mother, but also with the children and Meemaw. He was endlessly helpful, and much more positive than the children's father, who was abusive. Kyle even cooked, which was not that usual for the 1990s, and was attentive to the mother. Victoria's relationship with Eli was charming, and I loved that they ran together. There is a happy ending to this one, which definitely lightened the tone after Victoria's detrimental pranks.
Weaknesses: Yes, puberty is awful, but I wish that books would portray it in a more constructive fashion, concentrating of coping strategies rather than diatribes about its ills. Granted, it's probably best not to go back to the time when girls were told cramps were imaginary, but I'd like to see a middle ground in how the subject is portrayed. This comes in at 416 pages, which is a bit long for middle grade. A lot could have been tightened up. 
What I really think: Readers who themselves are interested in the dark and complicated world of Plath or Woolf and who enjoyed the portrayal of struggling blended families in Knisely's Stepping Stones, Torres's The Do-Over, or Leavitt's North of Supernova will be glad to revisit Victoria's troubled 1990s childhood. 

1 comment:

  1. I never heard the term "Visitor" mentioned when atlking about puberty. I agree with your logic about portraying puberty in a more constructive fashion -- many cultures celebrate it. This sounds like an interesting book and the 1990s weren't that long ago. We grew up in the dark ages when nothing was discussed and they are only now starting to talk more about menopause - dare I say the word. Love how Drew Barrymore and others are talking about it. I hope my comment is published. Have been trouble posting on sites.