After she accidentally breaks what she believes to be a valuable vase at the home of her babysitter, Sonia, a recent immigrant from Moldova, is blackmailed by the woman’s granddaughter Marta, a classmate.
First Marta demands Sonia’s treasured eraser collection to ensure she’ll keep the secret of the broken vase, but the bully quickly ups the ante, requiring daily payoffs of whatever she can force Sonia to turn over. Sonia, unfortunately, keeps quiet about the situation, believing that otherwise her financially struggling parents will be forced to pay for the vase. Humiliated by the blackmail and other bullying, Sonia avoids school when she can and hides whenever she’s able. Under some eventual prodding from her teacher, she gradually reveals her plight, leading to a too-easy solution. Sonia’s narrative voice rarely rings true, too often sounding oddly authorial. Among illustrator Bisaillon’s frequent, somewhat surreal illustrations is one that is out of sync with the text and, more critically, fails to convey that Marta’s “face looked like a thundercloud.” Still, Sonia’s teacher’s wise, spot-on advice helps make up for the shortcomings of this brief, simplistic novel: “Some kids who are bullied feel so much despair that they want to disappear. They forget about all the people who love them and could help.”
Bullying is a hot topic, so this average effort joins an already crowded field. (Fiction. 7-11)