As I've stated before, I have a particular weakness for books about kids on the cusp of adolescence, making the transition to middle school. This made The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter a perfect fit for me. Bessica Lefter (named after the first US woman to fly solo in an airplane) has always planned to reinvent herself at the start of middle school. But she's horrified when, due to an error in judgment on her own part, she has to start her new school alone and friendless, without the crutch of her best friend, Sylvie. I'm 30 years past the start of middle school, and I still find this notion terrifying, even as the prospect of starting with a clean slate might be intriguing.
Bessica, fortunately, is up to the challenge. She is funny and brave and impulsive, with a believable degree of melodrama.
Some things in The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter are cringe-worthy (oh, Bessica, don't rat out the bully to the teacher on your first day), some are painful (the heartache of having a rift with your best friend), and some are humorous. I like that the focus is on Bessica's fitting in, adjusting to school, trying to make friends, and deciding what activities to pursue. There's no romance to this book (though I wouldn't be averse to a sequel that explores Bessica's romantic future). It's a perfect book for 9 and 10 year olds just starting to think about middle school, and not looking for all that "kissing stuff".
Tracy does a nice job of giving the reader Bessica's first-person view, yet making Bessica's shortcomings apparent. The reader will realize long before Bessica does the flaws in Bessica's relationship with Sylvie, and the mistake that she made in relying so much on her best friend that she didn't even see anything else. I also quite liked Bessica's relationship with her parents. While she certainly has to solve her own problems, they are present in the book as parents, reminding her to be polite, helping her out here and there, etc. I found it to be a positive yet realistic depiction of family (with Bessica's grandmother also playing an important role).
Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a sense of Tracy's writing style, and Bessica's voice:
"I rolled my eyes. My mom was so naive. Did she think that all it took to make up was a phone call? Because I didn't think that.
Then I sat down in the grass and started ripping it out.
"Bessica, tearing apart the lawn is not a solution to your problems," my mom said.
"Actually, if you want to move over by the sidewalk you could pull out some of the crabgrass," my dad said. (Page 73-74)
"I cracked open my bedroom door. My parents were watching the news. And it wasn't even the local news. It was one of those stations that broadcasts the news twenty-four hours a day. All the time. Earthquakes. Puppies flushed down toilets. Hostage situations. That station was such a bummer." (Page 185)
The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter offers refreshingly original, quirky characters dealing with universal themes (fears about starting middle school, growing pains as elementary school friendships change, and the desire for personal reinvention). It's a strong addition to the canon of books for girls about starting middle school. Recommended to individual readers, and highly recommended for library purchase.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).