During one school year, a Fort Worth fourth-grader discovers the true meaning of friendship. Nora Jean is self-consciously toothpick-thin. Her chubby second-best friend Rosalie's sterling qualities are eclipsed by the oh-so-perfect Thomasina--Nora Jean's best friend. During the 38 weeks that it takes Nora Jean to sort out what really matters, there are a run-in with a rattler in the girls' bathroom; the excitement of planning a class Spook House for Halloween; and the overshadowing, fearsome presence of Jimmy Lee Drover, a giant-sized classmate who likes to tease but actually ends up saving Nora Jean's life with the Heimlich maneuver when she chokes on a pepperoni pizza. The school-librarian author displays a knack for characterization in this first novel: the children are believable, their lives brimming with details that ground them in reality--e.g., anxiety about purchasing the right winter coat or the earnest endeavor that goes into making parents' Christmas gifts--and their teacher is irresistibly inventive. The story is vigorous and funny, with the Texas flavor providing an added treat (Nora Jean's parents are Elbert and Viola; when she cusses, she uses words like ""fuzz-bucket""). Kerby looks like a promising new author for the middle grades.