A tale of friendship and trust intersects with a problem novel about dangerous behaviors among middle schoolers.
Windy Soto is solidly GP: "general public." She's neither a loner nor popular, neither a brain nor a failure, and she spends her days happily making Top Five… lists. When charismatic new girl Nina appears and completely upends the school's social hierarchy, Windy sees her chance to jump into the in-crowd. Brushing off her dorky and lovable best friend, Windy joins Nina at lunch tables and secret bathroom conferences. Nina invites Windy to be her "breath sister," surely Windy's ticket to the in-crowd at last. But being a breath sister requires Windy be willing to play the choking game—a.k.a. "sleeper hold" and "suffocation roulette"—and she comes to realize with horror that the scarves Nina always wears around her neck cover the bruises from this dreadful pastime. Tragedy strikes, and a character is left disabled. In the absence of alternate representations of disability, this damage—portrayed lavishly through the eyes of more virtuous characters—turns disability into punishment for bad behavior. What had been a touching story of honesty and self-discovery devolves in the final pages into an over-the-top public-service announcement, and Windy's final Top Five… list reads like a brochure from the school nurse. Though pegged by the publisher for ages 12 and up, both writing style and Windy's age argue for a preteen audience.
Surprisingly real, until the mawkish Afterschool Special finale. (author's note, resources) (Fiction. 9-11)