Thursday, February 12, 2009

Middle-Grade Fiction Review: 11 Birthdays

Imagine the movie Groundhog Day from a kid’s perspective. That’s the basic set-up for the warm and witty new novel 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass.

Amanda is dreading her 11th birthday because she and her best friend, Leo, who shares her birthday, still aren’t speaking to each other. Not only is she miserable without her buddy, but she and Leo have had a joint birthday party every year since they were 1-year olds, so she just knows her solo party will be a bust.

Somehow, Amanda makes it through the awful day, only to wake up the next morning to find that it’s her birthday again. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray woke each morning to Sonny & Cher on the radio. For Amanda, Spongebob becomes her daily reminder that her nightmare continues. Here’s her reaction the first time she wakes up on her birthday:

I reach out to turn off my alarm, open my eyes, and scream! Someone’s standing in the middle of my room. He’s short and squat, and his arms and legs are waving wildly. It’s too dark to see anything clearly. Safety tips run through my head. Stop drop and roll? That doesn’t seem helpful. Duck and cover? That one’s better. I throw the covers over my head and lie still. After a few heart-pounding minutes, I force myself to peek out from the top of the blanket. With one quick move, I flick on my lamp.

Huh. Okay, so it’s not a person. It’s a Spongebob Squarepants happy birthday balloon with streamers for arms and legs. My parents must have snuck him in while I was sleeping. That’s a heck of a thing to do to someone!
Stuck in this single, horrible day, Amanda finally realizes she needs to fix things with Leo if she ever hopes to reach the age of twelve. Along the way, she and Leo uncover an old family mystery and repair their friendship.

I read this book in one big gulp, over the course of a sick day, and I loved it. The writing is realistic and engaging, the main characters are likable, and the novel is brimming with a wonderful sense of humor.

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