BEST GIRL by Doris Buchanan Smith


Age Range: 9 - 12
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 Drawing on the experience of having her own home gutted by fire, then restored with the help of friends, an author known for her incisive and compassionate portraits of troubled children (Return to Bitter Creek, 1986) portrays an 11-year-old whose friendship with the woman next door grows out of a similar set of events. Nealy doesn't want to be her bitter mother's ``best girl''; but with kind Grandma dead, rebellious sister Noel, 14, locked out for a minor misdemeanor, and Dad (a police officer) turning up only for emergencies, compliance to Mama's unreasonable demands seems her only recourse; even so, Nealy is frequently scolded or slapped. She takes comfort in her artwork and her care for living things (ironically, Mama works for the ``Department of Natural Resources'') and finds refuge under Mrs. Dees's porch, next door, where she keeps a few treasures--her drawings, field guides, a box of Grandma's. When an arsonist burns Mrs. Dees's house, Nealy is an obvious suspect, at least to the distraught owner; but as willing friends pitch in to help restore the house, Nealy finds an ally in Hobby, who's giving Mrs. Dees shelter and finds a number of ways Nealy can help her too. Ultimately, Nealy finds the real culprit; more important, Mrs. Dees (a potter) discovers Nealy's artistic talent and warms to her young neighbor, while the post-fire events lead to some healthy, and believable, changes in Nealy's family's dynamics. Adroit plotting, a brisk pace, the offbeat scenario, and well- individualized characters add up to an unusually thoughtful and appealing novel. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-83752-0
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993


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