Super-slick, super-smart, superficial first-person account of the first semester of Clara Conrad's eighth-grade year, which she has dubbed ""The Year of the Clara"" because of her liberation from four years of after-school babysitting for Jay Frank, the kid next door, and the opportunity at last to join in school activities. The only possible hitch is the arrival of mother's friend's niece Halcyon, who will be spending the year at Clara's midwestern home and school. (In return, Clara's sister Laurel will stay with Halcyon's parents in New York, where she attends Juilliard.) Clara's best friend Angel helps get Clara on the Pom Pom Squad (which Angel has quit to go on to more important aspects of life), in exchange for the use of Clara's cellar to train rats for a science project; Clara not only makes the squad but, in an election rigged by super-jock basketball star Skip Svoboda (unknown to her), she's elected captain. Skip's attentions go along with the captaincy, though that has also escaped Clara, who's obviously been socially stunted by her years with Jay Frank--but when Jay calls her for help the night of the big Pom Pom performance, her true values surface and she races home. As trivial as Jay Frank's emergency is (he temporarily mixed up two of the rats), it's as momentous as anything in the story. Clara learns fast--her disillusionment with appearance-conscious Skip, her growing understanding of attention-starved Halcyon, her affection for her widowed mother, sister, and devoted Jay Frank, all combine to show her where it's really at; and her flip tone suits her tale.