Modern sass combines with a historical twist, making an uneven blend of middle school melodrama and the bitter realities of slavery.
As she showed in How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy (2011), Allen has a flare for blending the austere with the audacious. In her new novel, she introduces readers to Laura Eboni Dyson, the latest in a long line of Lauras dating back to the Amistad. Overweight and popularity-challenged, the last thing Laura wants is to draw negative attention to herself. When her seventh-grade history teacher convinces Laura's grandmother, Mrs. Anderson, to allow her class to visit the crumbling slave shack at the rear of Mrs. Anderson's property, Laura is determined to derail the class trip. Baseball-loving Laura is deeply ashamed of the shack, which she calls “yesterday’s history,” and she thinks her classmates will scorn her for hanging onto that history. Laura may prove tiresome to readers; she’s tough, strong and self-assured in one scene and downright mealy-mouthed in the next. By the time Laura stops wallowing and realizes her profound connection to a long line of Lauras, readers may meet her epiphany with a quizzical, "Is that it?"
Smartly rigged with history and graced with quick dialogue, the novel sails with Laura's snappy quips. Unfortunately, the story's emotional core sinks, leaving readers unsatisfied and adrift. (Fiction. 8-12)