Moving to small-town Massachusetts from Brooklyn wasn't easy for 12-year-old narrator Hattie, but she lucked into a group of friends fairly quickly.
So what if she can't reveal her fantasy nerddom or her fondness for cat T-shirts? Playing field hockey and the zip zip zip sound of corduroys are a small price to pay for friends. Hattie's so horrified at the public defriending of queen-bee Zooey that she draws up a Friendship Pact—triggering a jinx that causes her pals to completely forget her. With the unlikely help of Zooey and prickly teen genius Maude, she struggles to undo the jinx. Vrettos gets a lot right in her middle-grade debut, most particularly the middle schooler’s yearning and need to belong. But her command of voice and characterization is weak; would the same kid who, believably, favors “weird” as a catchall adjective also quote Zola? The white Brooklynite misses her Dominican friend but never remarks on well-to-do Trepan’s Grove’s evident lack of diversity (Maude is the only significant character of color), and a possible examination of class fizzles. The device of the jinx is initially effective, but its execution feels made up as the author went along, much like Maude, a character whose rich but unexplored back story tantalizes.
In the end the book feels as though it needed a couple more drafts to pull all its elements into balance. (Magical realism. 8-12)