In McCowan’s debut novel, a young girl copes with her parents’ divorce and her academic responsibilities, while struggling to define her own sense of identity.
Yolanda Phillips is just starting sixth grade, but she’s already feeling a great deal of pressure. Her parents have recently divorced and are still ironing out some of the finer points of their co-parenting responsibilities. They’re also attempting to redefine themselves as individuals: Her mother takes dance classes, and her father becomes a volunteer coach at her school. Meanwhile, she finds that the onset of puberty is changing the dynamics of her life, as male-female relationships become increasingly complicated. Her friends and older sister seem to be just a beat ahead of her in their physical development and newly romantic views. At school, Yolanda likes her new teacher, Mr. Jones, despite his no-nonsense approach. But she becomes mired in procrastination when he assigns the class a report: “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” Her friends seem sure of their future plans and confidently complete the assignment, but Yolanda must do some frantic self-analysis to determine who she is and what she wants from life. In the novel’s poignant climax, she acknowledges her passage into young adulthood, while also refusing to grow up too quickly. McCowan tells the story from Yolanda’s chatty, first-person point of view, and the book’s primary strength is the authenticity of that voice, as she energetically rambles through adolescent triumphs and travails. Yolanda is a charming creation: wary yet game, critical and questioning, without ever resorting to snarkiness. Her observations of her parents’ attempts at amicability (“They were making small talk, but I could tell it was different than before”) and of their post-divorce loneliness are touching. But although the author does a wonderful job of capturing the girl’s vivacious personality, younger readers may have difficulty envisioning some scenes due to the story’s overall lack of physical description.
A fun YA read about the pressures of adolescence, and about cultivating a healthy attitude toward change.