Classroom rivalries and childhood misadventures take center stage in deBoer’s charming debut YA.
Aaron and Stella aren’t exactly best friends. Stella, aka “Grade Six Brain,” takes delight in tormenting Aaron both in and out of the classroom. Fed up with her constant bragging, Aaron rashly bets $5 he’ll win this year’s spelling bee, a challenge Stella eagerly accepts. As with most rash decisions, Aaron almost immediately regrets it. His afternoon job mowing the many acres of Mr. and Mrs. Gifford’s farmstead will make studying for the bee nearly impossible. Things go from bad to worse when, after another hasty decision brings havoc to the tranquil farm, all thoughts of study are brushed aside. Most of the novel’s action is centered on the Giffords’ farm, which is brought to life with rich descriptions of carefully manicured flower gardens and delectable double-chocolate cakes. Mr. and Mrs. G head a small cast of thoughtfully developed characters whom readers both young and old will find relatable and genuine. At its core, this is a story about how a lie can ultimately define one’s character. When Aaron lets Mr. G take the blame for a mistake he committed, he’s at first relieved. The error, which would have likely cost Aaron his job, is not one he wants to admit. As time passes, however, the bothersome pit in his stomach begins to uncomfortably grow. In her debut, deBoer delivers an important lesson on character and honesty in a lighthearted manner that avoids feeling preachy or forced. Vividly described scenes of escaped cows trampling flowerbeds and gnawing on apple trees help inject humor and levity into the fast-paced story. Though set in the present day, the wholesome story feels straight out of the 1950s. If anything, Stella and Aaron may seem a bit naïve for today’s middle-grade audience, and they’ll most likely appeal to a younger crowd. The gentle moral message would make a good choice for the classroom or school library.
A breezy tale that delivers morality with sparkling wit.