Sixth grader Miranda walks home with her best friend every day, helps her mom study for her $20,000 Pyramid debut, and reads A Wrinkle in Time over and over again. But suddenly her life is full of odd characters: the crazy man under the mailbox on her street, and the kid who punches her best friend for no reason. And then she starts getting the notes…
I love almost everything about this wonderfully original book: the mom’s boyfriend who’s actually a nice guy and a good dad, the chapter titles structured as $20,000 Pyramid categories (it took me awhile to get that), the way the tone evokes A Wrinkle in Time. It’s one of those cozy books where everyone is good and forgiving and human without being saccharine, and it probably makes me a giant wuss, but I love that. The end is creepy and tragic and uplifting, and I bawled my eyes out.
As a side note, I have to quote this delicious (snerk) swipe at food-related racial shorthand:
My first memory of Julia is from second grade, when we made self-portraits in art. She complained there was no “cafe au lait”-colored construction paper for her skin, or “sixty-percent-cacao-chocolate” color for her eyes. I remember staring at her while these words came out of her mouth, and thinking, Your skin is light brown. Your eyes are dark brown. Why don’t you just use brown, you idiot? Jay Stringer didn’t complain about the paper, and neither did any of the other ten kids using brown.
What really makes this work is that while Julia is set up to be the snotty love-to-hate-her girl, she ends up being a friend. So we see how even though she’s privileged financially, she encounters so much racism that she needed to ennoble her brown skin as “cafe au lait” — and somehow Stead manages to make all of these points subtly, while staying within sixth-grade perspective.
Sadly what I don’t love about this book is the cover. I would have loved the hell out of this book when I was twelve, but no one could’ve convinced me to read it. I would have looked at the cover, gone “Meh, depressed kid with no friends and too much interior life,” and tossed it. (I didn’t like books that hit too close to home, apparently.)
We just got it, so I haven’t started foisting it on my kids yet, but I think they’ll love it. Highly recommended!
Also reviewed by: Abby (the) Librarian, Educating Alice (which has an annoying snowfall animation, but makes up for it with posts by her students about the book), and A Fuse #8 Production (who writes much longer reviews than I do, so she says all the things I wanted to say but didn’t).