Previously a “blender,” Piper Milly finds a way to shine in a school full of would-be stars.
Piper’s father’s new job is choral director at Chumley Prep, a tony independent school where everyone’s an achiever. It comes with full tuition for Piper, who’s now able to attend the school where her deceased mother once shone. Feeling out of place and extremely untalented in this new, more competitive world, seventh grader Piper eventually finds friends and discovers that her empathy and willingness to help others make her stellar, too. She even finds it possible to do something nice for the classmate who has made fun of her and her father from their very first encounter. From a characterization standpoint, Piper’s enthusiasm for astronomy helps her stand out as a protagonist in this novel about finding one’s place in middle school, but her nemesis, Ainsley Braden-Hammerschmidt, is drawn as an all-too-familiar arrogant child of privilege. The puzzle here is more subtle than in some of co-author Chris Grabenstein’s previous Mr. Lemoncello books: There’s a new prize at Chumley Prep, the Excelsior Award; every student hopes to win it, but no one knows quite how. A subplot involving a teacher who hasn’t gotten over her resentment of Piper’s mother seems extraneous, but there’s plenty of believable dialogue and humor. The cast is default white; Piper’s friends have names representative of different cultures and are gratifyingly quirky.
A crowd-pleasing reminder that kindness pays. (Fiction. 10-13)