You make a quirky new friend whom other kids shun. How to manage this friendship and still fit in at school?
That’s the dilemma white 11-year-old Mattie faces when her family moves from North Carolina to suburban Philadelphia. Mattie’s just settling in when she meets her white next-door neighbor and classmate, Agnes P. Davis, who’s the same age, creative, fun, and dizzyingly offbeat. Other stuff’s going on: Mattie’s adjusting to being the new kid in the middle of the semester; Mama’s job hunt isn’t going well; her parents seem to be drifting apart; and her beloved grandmother must soon move into a retirement home. Mattie’s first-person, present-tense narration sounds authentic and makes clear that there’s more to Agnes than mere eccentricity: she’s supersmart and sweet, but some behaviors suggest that she may fall on the autism spectrum, though this is never overtly stated. When Mattie meets new pals (described as racially diverse) and even a boyfriend, she denies any relationship with Agnes, viewed as beyond weird by their classmates, to avoid ostracism. This leads to guilt, much soul-searching, and, eventually, realistic personal growth and a fuller understanding of Agnes. In a satisfying if pat ending, Mattie determinedly helps her new friends—who’ve always acknowledged Agnes’ high intelligence—recognize and warily accept their classmate’s strengths, talents, and differences as assets.
This honest, pleasant ode to true friendships draws readers in and offers gentle, kid-friendly guidance to maintaining relationships that matter. (Fiction. 9-12)