After her father’s death, 11-year-old Brenda “Chip” Anderson feels lonely and alienated when she’s transplanted from New York to Mt. Airy, N.C.
A tomboy and “daddy’s girl,” Chip loved hanging out in the woods with her father, but now Mama moves the family to Mt. Airy to live with Grandma, who takes an instant dislike to Chip and focuses on entering Chip’s two sisters in the Miss Dogwood 1977 beauty pageant. As former pageant winners, Grandma and Mama become obsessed with grooming Chip’s sisters for the pageant, leaving her to grieve and adjust on her own. Chip’s father always told her she was “perfect just being” herself, but now she’s confused. When she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm, “free to those who need it,” Chip enrolls, hoping to surprise Mama and Grandma by secretly entering the pageant. Miss Vernie assures her students they will be most beautiful if they are themselves, but Chip learns the hard way by trying to become a “brand-new Brenda.” The quiet, gentle plot progresses slowly, allowing Chip to heal, form new friendships and assimilate Miss Vernie’s unorthodox charm lessons before becoming a “brand-new Chip.”
Poignant, inspiring debut novel of loss, belonging and being true to yourself. (Historical fiction. 8-12)