A zany British trifle about middle school popularity.
“I set Josie Graham on fire,” opens 12-year-old Anna. But she’s not a pyromaniac, really she’s not! It’s just that Josie’s “hairspray-laden locks” were near the Bunsen burner when Anna turned it on—without checking the setting, which was on the highest flame. She’s sure the incident will cement her friendlessness. Anna’s actual klutziness (walking into a pillar; rappelling down a cliff only to dangle upside down in a waterfall) and hilarious tendency to hide in closets ring truer than her supposed misery. Her narration—including lists, frantic emails, and rapid-fire note-passing—is daffily dramatic, not painfully sad. Her voice and quandaries sometimes seem artificially forced, giving them an absurdist air. Adding to the farcical vibe is Anna’s father’s sudden engagement to a famous movie star. Anna gets instant fame, access to Prada gowns, and famous connections to use for regaining two real friendships that, as readers will know, were solid all along. Her earnestly theatrical drama is often disarming, as when Anna hurts herself by lifting Dog, her full-grown Labrador, “as though he was Simba on Pride Rock during that ‘Circle of Life’ song.” Despite the London setting, Birchall’s cast is completely white, with nonwhite people showing up only off-page in unfortunate jokes such as Anna’s oft-mentioned plan to “go to Africa and hand out rice.”
Funny and frothy. (Fiction. 9-12)