It’s tough to stand up to the queen.
Anxious Meg has always deferred to bold, popular Beatrix—knowing, unhappily, that Beatrix will quickly freeze her out if she doesn’t. Beatrix dictates what electives the two will share, what childhood traditions they will and won’t retain, and what Meg must do or say to retain her favor. When Meg is one of four seventh graders to be accepted into the competitive science elective, the very thought of telling Beatrix that they will no longer share dance brings unparalleled terror. However, it is eccentric, bee-obsessed new girl Hazel who relates that ill news at a more ill-fated neighborhood party, invoking Beatrix’s immediate animosity and Meg’s warring admiration and consternation. As Meg and Hazel begin to forge a connection through a science project featuring Hazel’s bees, Meg must find the courage to face down her failing friendship with Beatrix, her town’s (and her own) prejudices against the bees, and, ultimately, herself. Meg’s first-person narration is emotive and candid, maintaining sympathy even as her occasional hypocrisy provokes outrage. Middle school drama, including concerns regarding the legitimacy of its power, is tenderly treated, and the connections between characters—family, friends, classmates, and teachers—feel refreshingly genuine. The novel adheres to a white default, with some ethnic diversity among the supporting cast.
McDunn’s tale of growing beyond a toxic childhood friendship will ring painfully true for many a reader. (Fiction. 8-12)