A classic middle-school clique situation: five friends, including one queen bee, one follower, and three quieter hangers-on… And then there were four. The queen bee, Candace, decides she doesn’t want to hang out with Maya anymore. Who knows why? But the rest have to go along with it, lest they be next.
This is told in all five alternating voices, which was distracting. I kept having to check which was Brianna and which was Renee. With so many characters and only 120 pages, Koss relies on a certain amount of stereotyping shorthand, especially with the secondary characters.
(Brianna’s parents are scientists, and we get this description:
My parents’ idea of fun was to lug the telescope and microscope out to the godforsaken desert — poke in the dirt all day, peer at the stars at night. It was as if they were at work twenty-four hours a day. …But isn’t it possible to be a scientist by day, then play slide trombone in a Dixie band or drums in a rock band at night? Watch TV? Be in plays?
Why yes! In fact it is! So why not show characters who do that? They’d be far more interesting and believable, and even less stereotypical parents can set up plenty of “don’t have a loud party tonight, Bree” conflict.)
It’s rare to get the Mean Girls’ point of view portrayed sensitively. Which makes sense for the victimized target readership — I think most kids feel victimized at some point in middle school. But as a teacher, even as I hate what the bullies are doing, they’re still 12-year-old girls and my heart goes out to them. They’re behaving that way for a reason, and I wonder if it might help to recognize themselves in a book where they can also see their victims’ perspective?
That’s the type of question this book is designed for. Nothing much “happens”; it’s a psychological case study as much as anything. For all that this is not a richly built world (again, 120 pages), the friendship drama is entirely believable. My kids deal with this crap every day, poor things, and I can imagine this book meaning a lot to a girl who goes to school with cramps in her stomach thinking about how her “friends” will subtly torment her today.
The girls on the cover, incidentally, are all white, which disappoints me since that wasn’t specified at all in the book. (Maya is the daughter of Russian immigrants; the others are given a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds but no clear ethnicities.)