Thursday, September 17, 2009
A Trio of Middle Grade Novles Part II
by Barbara Dee
"Mom, you have GOT to read this!" My daughter punches the air with the book for emphasis. "Barbara Dee is SUCH a good writer." What would I give to be eight and feel like I can tell when someone is SUCH a good writer...sigh.
This book deals with issues familiar to many middle graders: a sense of belonging, friendship, fitting in. Zoe feels unremarkable in her surroundings, being related to a star-performer sister and a math-genius brother and attending a progressive school for the gifted. She is not bothered by her own ordinary existence until her world is rocked by two people's actions: her best friend's apparent desire to leave their cozy little circle and the appearance of a boy who scribbles and acts weird.
The interactions Zoe has with the best-friend-becoming-difficult-to-understand and the difficult-to-understand-boy-becoming-a-friend leaves her confused and sad and annoyed at different times. A new after-school job tending lizards, an unexpected two-weeks suspension from school, and lots of thinking later, Zoe comes to terms with what the inevitability happenings of life: that people change, that people will seem strange until you get a glimpse of what else shapes their lives, that people will misunderstand you, and that sometimes you need someone else to point out the truth about yourself.
As a writer, I am also impressed by how the essence of the book is contained in the opening chapter, without any sense of events or writing being forced to achieve this. I read the beginning chapter twice just to absorb how she does it.
The eight-year old is right. Barbara Dee is a good, and I'll add, very, very good writer.