A not-so-lightweight tale rises above drag jokes to reveal surprising profundity.
At first bite, this lightly humorous novel about two sixth-grade boys infiltrating the Cupcake Cadets (think Girl Scouts) to win a $500 prize seems to be going for cringe comedy, heavy on the gag aspects of boys wearing girls’ clothing. But once the guys actually join the troop and discover that they can pass, the story becomes a richer, more layered confection. Jeremy Bender loves boats and dreams of piloting his father’s beloved Chris-Craft. But when he and his best friend, Slater Stevenson, accidentally ruin the engine, Jeremy has to come up with big bucks to fix it. That’s when he gets his big, albeit crazy idea—join the Cupcake Cadets and win their Windjammer Whirl, a model sailboat race. It’s a hubris-filled plan with multiple pitfalls, and Jeremy and Slater fall into every one. Life lessons are learned, as the disasters prompt not only a renewed determination in our heroes, but also better planning and forethought, which are largely seen as female virtues. A subplot about a school bully who just happens to be the troop leader’s son adds flavor, as does a determined, hardworking Cadet’s discovery of their not-so-little secret.
Although amusing, this story never quite reaches the level of funny, but it’s well-meaning and enjoyable. (Fiction. 8-12)