A sixth-grade girl has to decide between friendship and popularity.
Winning a coveted place on the middle school pompom squad means popularity, cool guys and schoolwide fame. To list-loving protagonist Abigail, who narrates the story in the first person in a list format, it means the world. But, unlike Abigail’s two barely differentiated best friends, Alli and Cami, Abigail only makes alternate. Worse, Gabby Marco, “the number one outcast at Crestdale Heights,” is assigned to be Abigail’s partner for the friendly-letter assignment. Slowly, grudgingly, Abigail comes to both like and admire Gabby, and together, the two of them volunteer to read stories to kindergarteners, which they both enjoy. But after a bit of luck secures Abigail a permanent spot as a pompom girl, she has to decide if Gabby’s low position on the school totem pole makes friendship tenable. Gabby, though eccentric, is portrayed as all good, while the pompom girls don’t have an ounce of kindness or compassion among them. And unrealistically, Abigail’s choice is set up as a binary choice between pompom girl and everything it represents or Gabby and the kindergarteners, with no flexibility to move between worlds.
Nonetheless, this kind of dilemma is very pertinent for middle school girls, and Cavanaugh largely handles it with tact and sensitivity, taking her heroine on a psychological journey from superficial to thoughtful. (Fiction. 9-13)