With humor and real-life truths, this lively novel careens through the ups and downs of a 14-year-old girl’s plot to join the in-crowd.
Only the most popular girls in the eighth grade get into the Boosters—“the club at Bingham Junior High.” Tilly plans to be one of them. Her biggest obstacles: Stephanie Reynolds, the Booster’s malicious queen bee, and Tilly’s horribly embarrassing family: “It’s like my whole family’s a puzzle, and I’m the piece that doesn’t fit, no matter how hard it’s crammed in.” Tilly thinks that she just has to have been adopted. After all, at her house, her aspiring mystery-writer Mom muses about “murder weapons and blood-spatter patterns”; museum director dad reads articles aloud; activist big sister Maude lectures on vegetarianism; science-minded brother Freddie dispenses his encyclopedic knowledge of gross diseases; and little sister Chloe, aka Killer Butterfly, practices professional wrestling–worthy growls. Despite this zaniness, Levering-Duff (The Medallion of Tiben, 2004, etc.) renders her characters as three-dimensional and relatable. If Tilly can make it into the Boosters, she’ll have a place where she feels she belongs, and Brian—her football-star crush—will notice her. Yet Tilly’s rejection of a clearly caring family and her willingness to ignore what she knows is wrong and go along with Stephanie’s humiliations—donning a pig snout, not sitting with old friends at lunch, getting points off for choosing the wrong clothes—wear thin fast. Fortunately, though, there’s more to this well-polished narrative. Levering-Duff doesn’t dig deep, but she shapes Tilly’s story with a leavening mix of humor, emotional truths, and a dash of romance, not to mention a keen understanding of an adolescent’s desire for independence amid peer pressure and need for stability. Tilly’s natural compassion shines through, and her personal growth comes through in witty periods of self-assertion and the mounting doubts about her path. “I thought my whole world would change the minute I became a Booster,” she eventually says, “but it didn’t.” Meanwhile, the contrasting and touching portrayal of Tilly’s best friend Kate—thoughtful, kind, unhappy at home—is so effective that Levering-Duff might consider telling her story next.
A humorous, resonant teen-girl novel fueled by issues of family, identity, and fitting in.