The best-selling author's first novel since 1984 takes up a third-grade rite of passage: learning to write in cursive. Maggie rebels: "Cursive is dumb. It's all wrinkled and stuck together." Her refusal to practice the new skill provokes a parent-teacher conference, a visit to the principal, and--finally--a creative move from the teacher. Appointed message-monitor, Maggie eventually realizes that the notes she's been snooping on (as the teacher knew she would) are all about her "problem"--and once she learns to read them, the problem is on the way to solution. This is slighter and not as funny as Cleary at her best. It's hard to believe that "gifted and talented" Maggie would find her teacher's cursive notes so hard to read for so long. There are other minor problems: Why does Cleary make such a point of Maggie being pretty? Why is the teacher so sure that Maggie will be rude enough to read the notes? And why does Life picture Maggie as two or three years older than a third-grader? Still, with its' sharp observations and crisp dialogue, even second-best Cleary can hold its own with most books on this level.