Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's not to like?

So, I'm not crazy about Meg Cabot; can she actually be writing all the books she publishes each year (according to my library's catalog, she authored eight books last year, three so far this year!)? It's probably just envy and snobbishness: Clearly, the woman has discipline, but her books do have a sameness to them. This can be good though; her books are such that as a conscientious librarian, you can read one ... because then you've read them all. And I'm glad I read Best Friends and Drama Queens, the third installment of Cabot's elementary school series Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls.

Allie Finkle is settling into fourth grade; she was the new girl at the beginning of the year, but now she's got a strong group of friends and is confident that her teacher likes her. It's the first days of school after winter break, and Allie learns there's another new girl, Cheyenne, recently arrived from Canada. As the former newbie, Allie wants to be nice, but Cheyenne is your classic alpha girl (pre-adolescent version), and all too soon, she's taken over the fourth grade with her kissing games, spa sleepovers, and boy-girl matchups. Allie and her chums don't like this, and tears and misunderstandings occur. Adults intervene and Cheyenne satisfactorily ends up in a puddle of melting snow -- brought low by her high-heeled zip-up winter boots -- and all is right with the world at Pine Heights Elementary once again.

I liked this. It's just perfect for what it tries to be: a story for young readers eager to read about themselves and the worries of their own lives. Yes, it's about comfortably middle class white girls with loving, intact families (at a very late point in the story I learned that one of her friends was Chinese-American; this information may have been provided in an earlier story), but the inherent drama of the tensions in that classroom could have broader appeal, I think. The good girls win in the end, but Allie brings up a lot of pertinent questions about popularity and acting one's age that are worth reading about. It's not didactic in any way, in places it's almost entertaining for a middle-aged reader! The places that made me laugh out loud were Cabot's descriptions of the inexplicable (to Allie, and -- yes -- to me!) behavior of fourth grade boys (barking and drawing violent alien death, among other activities).

The reader, Tara Sands, is very good. She effortlessly sounds like a fourth grade girl (which makes you wonder what she really sounds like -- and how that affects her adult life, but that's not for discussion here). I believed her as Allie -- curious, funny, affectionate, tolerant of the goofy boys she's compelled to sit next to, and smart. Sands has a difficult narrative job to do: create distinctive characters for about a dozen fourth graders -- no easy feat. She is mostly successful, but upon occasion she loses a character. For the most part, since Cabot writes a lot of dialogue with many "she said" clues, I wasn't distracted by this and had no trouble following conversations or the simple plot.

These audiobooks (I'm assuming that Sands narrates the earlier volumes as well) would be fine for that family car trip ... enjoyable for elementary school students and their younger siblings.

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