Book: The Social Experiments of Dorie Dilts: Dumped by Popular Demand
Author: P. G. Kain
Age Range: 9-13 (middle school)
I've read a number of books lately that I've enjoyed, but I have to say that I LOVED The Social Experiments of Dorie Dilts: Dumped by Popular Demand. This book is adorable. It's sweet and funny and quirky, and I want it to be made into a movie as soon as possible (maybe preferably by Disney Pictures and/or John Hughes). Dorie is a 12-year-old budding scientist who decides, on moving across the country and starting a new school, that she is going to figure out how to be popular. She gets herself a lab notebook, and starts observing the popular kids in their natural element. She is particularly taken with a trio of popular girls who she dubs "The Holly Trinity" (Holly being their leader). After much observation, Dorie learns that the common bond shared by the Holly Trinity is that each of the three was unceremoniously dumped by the same boy, Grant Braddish. Grant is popular in his own right, a jock, attractive but obnoxious. Dorie's path is quite clear. She must get Grant to date her, and then dump her. Then the Holly Trinity will become a quartet, and Dorie will for the first time in her life be popular and accepted. Of course things don't go exactly as planned...
In retrospect, the ending of the story is predictable. But it doesn't feel predictable along the way, because Dorie's first-person voice is so strong, and she doesn't know how things are going to turn out. Sure, the reader might realize a few things more quickly than Dorie does, but that's part of the fun. What I love most is Dorie herself. She's a young scientist who worships Jane Goodall, and has no idea that, say, people won't think that an ecology theme for the school dance would be cool. She is surprised that the popular jock expects her to do all the work for their joint science project. She uses a spreadsheet to collect data about the Holly Trinity, looking for their common elements. Yet she is sometimes insightful, too, and has some hilarious throw-away lines. Like this one:
"I was never a social outcast like the kids that wore black from head to toe and treated their scalps like Easter eggs. You know the kind. They claim to be all anti-everything. (News flash: If you are wearing black because all of your friends are too, it's called conformity, not individuality.)" (Chapter 1)
Another great element of this book is the character of Dorie's best friend, a boy from Texas nicknamed Dixie. And no, this is not one of those stories in which the male and female best friends discover that they are secretly in love, because Dixie is clearly gay. This is never overtly stated, though there are some subtle references (including a priceless reference to Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding). Dorie notes mid-way through the book:
"My parents have both grown to like Dixie and thankfully both of them have realized Dixie is not my boyfriend. I don't know why, but I just could never think of Dixie that way." (Chapter 20).
The adult reader knows why. The elementary school reader ... I don't know. But Dixie is delightful, dropping frequent movie references, and able to conduct a makeover on demand. He's also not afraid to call Dorie on her behavior, when she gets a bit too caught up in her own experiments. The character of Grant is less solidly drawn, but I do like the way his nature is slowly revealed, with flaws and vulnerabilities. The kid from High School Musical could certainly have played him a few years back.
Dumped by Popular Demand is not serious literature. Parts of the story are a bit over the top (especially when Dorie is trying to get dumped), and the climax is not emotionally wrenching. Still, I loved this book. It's a frothy confection, but one that has nuggets of something solid to it. I especially enjoyed seeing a girl in a middle school novel who is interested in science, and smarter than the boys around her. This is a very clean read, safe for girls eight and up, though best for readers about to start middle school. With it's pink cover, I don't think too many boys would be willing to pick it up. Which is too bad, because I think that everyone should fall for Dorie Dilts. The sequel is due out in February, and I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: September 25, 2007
Source of Book: ARC from the author. All quotes are from the ARC, and may not exactly reflect the final published book.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.