Cooper (Sticks and Stones, 2016) revisits quirky maladies and middle school friendships.
Brown-skinned, mixed-race (Latina/white) 12-year-old Sophie Mulvaney and her mother used to be “Adventurous Girls.” But ever since Sophie’s mother broke up with her boyfriend, Pratik, and lost her job, she’s been depressed, and Sophie blames herself. Worse, Sophie suddenly notices comic-strip–style bubbles above people’s heads that broadcast their thoughts—or so she thinks. Her friends, anxious Kaya, described as having dark-brown skin, and “hyper” Argentine-American Rafael, miss her adventurous nature. Fortunately, a social studies group project conveniently addresses Sophie’s situation: risk-taking. As the friends tackle their respective fears to train for a triathlon, Sophie’s mother faces her depression. Meanwhile, Sophie addresses the thought bubbles she sees with the aid of a therapist, which the author handles straightforwardly. Sophie’s bubbles are never diagnosed; like Sophie’s frequent allusions to historical events, they’re simply a vehicle for a moral. Even Sophie’s interest in history itself becomes a metaphor for her development as she learns people aren’t always what they seem; her only unscathed trait is her obsession with pancakes. Her friends are barely developed, and a snooty white classmate is a lonely cliché. Though the author inserts a few roadblocks, the ending is almost too pat to be believable.
Though readers may root for “Team Everybody” (and perhaps crave some pancakes), the heavy-handed lessons make this feel-good story a bit of a slog. (Fiction. 9-12)