A belated birthday gift creates havoc for 11-year-old Cleo.
In the decade since her mother’s death, it has always been just Cleo and her father, and that’s fine. But recent events cause turmoil for the sixth grader. After relocating to Los Angeles from Ohio, Cleo’s transition to her new school is complicated socially, due in part to the taunts from popular girl Madison. Also, her dad’s growing relationship with Terri further disconcerts Cleo. When Cleo receives a “Positive Happy Voodoo Doll” from her eccentric uncle, she is intrigued by the possibilities. Along with her new friend, Samantha, Cleo decides to use the doll’s voodoo to boost their popularity. But Cleo soon becomes ambivalent about the voodoo doll, even as Samantha insists they continue. Gallagher’s tale addresses concerns familiar to preteens about fitting in and friendships. When a hex appears to have a serious consequence, Cleo decides she’s done with magical manipulation, despite Samantha’s dismay. In a comically frenetic denouement, Cleo’s attempts to undo the voodoo complications garner an unexpected ally and a surprising new friend. While the effectiveness of Uncle Arnie’s magic remains a mystery, Gallagher ends the book by foreshadowing Cleo’s next magical misadventure.
Gallagher’s tale evolves beyond a simple popularity quest, as amid the commotion wrought by her voodoo experiments, Cleo gains an appreciation for authentic friendships. (Fiction. 9-12)