An eighth grader’s world is thrown into turmoil when her best friend publicly identifies another girl as such instead.
Required to team up with a best friend in gym class, Niki’s mortified when Ava chooses Britney, leaving Niki by default with “wonky, nerdy, wholesome” Holly, her best friend in third grade (before Ava moved here to Snug Island, Maine). Bonding with Holly and her friends holds little appeal. Niki’s desperate to restore the status quo, but Ava won’t answer her texts and now hangs out with the superpopular Squad. Confronted, Ava defends her behavior by attacking Niki, who’s still mourning their lost friendship. Niki’s social anxiety echoes her mother’s. (She exhausts herself pretending that Niki’s little brother, Danny, is doing fine; later, testing places him on the autism spectrum.) Niki feels guilty for repeatedly blowing off Holly, who single-handedly saves Danny’s ninth birthday party. While Danny’s needs and crises increasingly demand parental attention, Niki herself becomes a person of interest to neighbor and classmate Milo. Occasionally, the plot spirals into melodrama; Holly’s mature intelligence and Ava’s manipulative selfishness can seem excessive next to the perfect-pitch presentation of other characters, Niki especially. Danny—high-functioning but self-absorbed, sweet but annoying, impervious yet vulnerable—is an appealing standout among fictional characters on the spectrum, a fully rounded individual. Niki and her family are white, as are most—but not all—of her classmates.
Vail’s gift for channeling adolescent angst is the icing on this funny, moving tale. (Fiction. 10-14)