Ugh! Those junior high/middle school days; when suddenly, everything you thought you knew about your friends is up for reinterpretation. Worse, it seems that you are up for reinterpretation.
This is what Wendy, an 8th grader at Bellingrath Junior High, is dealing with in Cynthia Toney’s debut novel, 8 Notes to a Nobody. Wendy is a talented artist, but what does that matter when her best friend is gorgeous and popular and nice. While Wendy? She’s just “a bird face?”
Funny how you can live your days as a clueless little kid, believing you look just fine – with a crooked tooth or knobby knees or a bird face – until someone, usually someone you don’t even care about, knocks you in the heart with it.
Which pretty much sums up junior high.
Still, Wendy must learn to navigate her life. Her parents are divorced and she doesn’t get along with either her father or his new wife. Her gorgeous best friend seems to be moving on with her. And now Wendy’s got John Wilson to deal with – a brainiac who can’t seem to shake an opportunity to mock and ridicule her. It seems her whole world is collapsing in on her.
One bright spot? Mysterious yellow sticky notes keep showing up in the oddest of places and, although they are written by a seemingly bad speller, they’re nice. And Wendy starts to wonder if maybe, the best way to make friends isn’t to be one first.
Author Cynthia Toney does a fantastic job of getting inside an 8th grader’s head and, better still, she does it with excellent writing and authentic voice. While I found myself wanting to slow the pace of the book down a little bit – I felt like I was riding on the back of Wendy’s bike, whizzing through her life – the book was a genuine good read.
Toney doesn’t shy away from “issues,” either. Depression, eating disorders, divorce, bullying – the book has them all. And maybe this is why I felt like I was whizzing through Wendy’s life. Perhaps slowing down and taking one issue on a time would have made for a more engaging read. I was rushed through and didn’t have time to really empathize.
I know, here’s a book written by a Catholic Christian author and writing about theses issues head on. I can just hear you wondering, “Is the book going to throw a Bible at my head?” But no worries. 8 Notes to a Nobody is never preachy – I don’t know that you would know it’s a written by a Catholic if it weren’t for a few, very well placed, indicators. To my mind, this is a huge plus! I’ve long argued that adults don’t enjoy being preached at – why would they think that a younger generation does?
Truth really is universal, and well written book conveys those truths without bludgeoning the reader.
Not only that, but Truth spans the generations. Upper elementary and middle school students will love this book. A protagonist who agonizes over her appearance and being accepted by a crowd, and who eventually –
Aw. Come on, you don’t think I’m going to ruin the ending for you, do you? You gotta read the book to find out how it ends.
Summer time booklists are being tentatively drawn out, and library reading programs are getting underway. Throw this book on your list of summer reads, and nudge your middle schooler to do the same.
And me? I’ve read 8 Notes to a Nobody. The author sent me a copy with the hopes of a (favorable) review. And while free books don’t necessarily make for good books, this one was. My opinions are my own. In fact, I’ve already purchased the sequel, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, and can’t wait to get started.