Freund (Global Home Cooking, 2014, etc.) relates the adventures of a grade school girl in the Midwest in this energetic YA novel.
Sandy Drue encounters some trouble at her new school. Her family recently relocated from New York City, and her mother’s free-spirited advice fails to help Sandy deal with her inquisitive peers. Sandy recounts being cornered on the playground by her fellow students, who ask which religion she belongs to; Sandy doesn’t know. “You get to believe whatever you decide to believe,” her mother tells her later, even if the girl would prefer a simpler answer. She begins to think of herself as a weirdo (her mother tells her, “The word to use is ‘avant-garde’ ”), though her boundless curiosity for the way the world works keeps her open to the customs of her new school and the changes that come with growing up. After all, there are games to be played, words to be learned, crafts to be made, and a whole series of firsts—good and bad—along the way. In short chapters assembled in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, the novel leaps around Sandy’s childhood from ages 8 to 13, detailing the incremental moments of her development. Freund writes with infectious vitality, perfectly channeling the voice of Sandy in all her precocious naiveté. The reading experience is analogous to that of being a 7-year-old and having the world explained by a 10-year-old. Here, Sandy describes what life was like in the “Olden Days”: “I think everyone had an English accent, even if it was kind of fake, but I don’t know that for sure because they didn’t have tape recorders then.” The novel’s episodic structure shrewdly replicates the rhythms of childhood: issues arise, have meaning, and are forgotten. New days bring new exploits and stir random memories. Freund occasionally drifts into moments of writerly awareness (Sandy at one point sings the praises of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.), but for the most part, her creation remains immersive, enjoyable, and at times quite moving.
A charming novel charts a child’s intellectual and emotional journey as she copes with a new set of classmates.