Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

MeaningofMaggie

Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

Walk The Line

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When I was around 12 years old, my family went on a camping trip “out west.”  Among other things, we stopped at Four Corners, where four states (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) come together in one place.  I remember feeling strangely powerful, like I had accomplished something, when I stretched out arms and legs to be in all four states at once.  But it also made me think about how intensely small my place in the world was.  I was a speck, tinier than a grain of sand.

Twelve-ish is a time for feeling both big and small, isn’t it?  Last week I went to a middle school celebration ceremony (the students had completed their Drug Abuse Resistance Education program).  During the evening, each 6th grader was presented with a certificate.  As the kids crossed the stage, I marveled at the variety of shapes and sizes and types I saw.  Some looked like they should be back in elementary school, some looked like they could drive themselves home!  Sneakers and haphazard ponytails shared the stage with high heels and make up.  The dichotomy of this time of life – you are little, and you are big – swirled around me.  It was beautiful.

Pianist Paul Sullivan composed an emotional song that captures this tricky time, called Clara’s Dance.  He was inspired to write it when his young son’s babysitter was in this season of life.  Give it a listen – your heart will tug.

The dance of the pre-teen played out before my eyes again after a recent trip to the mailbox yielded two magazines for the 11-year-old in my home.  The American Girl doll catalog, and Teen Vogue (both came unsolicited).  I peered over my daughter’s shoulder at the cover of Teen Vogue and pinched my lips together as I read the teaser “Bad Trip – the real deal with the new It drugs.”

Wait, what?

Wait, what?

Yikes!  I am so not ready for this, I thought.  But apparently, neither was the 11-year-old.  She brushed both magazines aside, but later asked me, “Where is Kit  [her American Girl doll], anyway?”  The next day, while gathering up laundry I saw something I hadn’t in years:

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And my heart was glad.

Most of us remember this particular stage of life, when you are both little and big, with some tinge of poignancy.  We want to reach back in time and say to ourselves:  don’t hurry!  It’s not as great as you think over here!  

Perhaps that’s why coming-of-age stories are perennial favorites.  We can relive that time through someone else’s lens, distant enough to not feel all that pain, but close enough to realize we aren’t the only speck out there, and that it’s a pretty nice beach to be on after all.