Author: Maria T. Lennon

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-212690-0

Are you attracted to books with mean central characters, who eventually turn out to be quite likable? If so, and especially if you are a tween and/or a middle child yourself, you need look no farther than Confessions of a So-called Middle Child, by Maria T. Lennon. Centred on extremely fashion-conscious and egocentric Charlie C. Cooper, this coming-of-age novel tells of the escapades of a young girl who is coming to terms with principles of justice and fairness in her school and home environs. Having always been attracted to the smartest dressed, but not the most ethically sound, classmates has landed her in so much deep water that she was expelled from her last school for dosing the school cafetaria’s meals with laxatives to get her own back on a friend by whom she felt betrayed. (Unsurprisingly, one learns that the author herself was once evicted from Brilliantmont International School in Lausanne, so has some insight into the kind of feelings involved.)

Now Charlie has come to a new city, Los Angeles, and to a new school. Her ability to make a fresh start under the guidance of her shrink, Doc Scales, is plagued by her reluctance to give up on her old way of striving to gain acceptance from popular girls by being bad. As the Doc says, her self-esteem is low and she clearly needs to become more assertive in her relations with others. How she sets about, under instruction, befriending the most bullied girl in her school provides the central impetus for Charlie’s progression from being an obnoxious brat to a person whom you would be proud to associate with.

Apart from the central story there are various subplots, including Charlie’s online friendship, via Skype, with her “tech-equal main squeeze in Mumbai”, Jai, as well as Charlie’s father’s excavation of their grounds for remnants of Houdini’s hidden past (her family has come to live in the Houdini Mansion on Laurel Canyon Boulevarde, and her dad is intent on rebuilding the original house that burnt down in 1953). This, plus the Romanian background of the outcast (“Marta the Farta”), who becomes transformed through Charlie’s frendship, and not omitting the many references that are made to Mandela’s influence on Charlie’s thinking, goes into making Lennon’s second novel (with her first being the adult novel Making It Up as I Go Along) a work that should have a worldwide, contemporaneous appeal for youngsters across the globe.

Confessions of a So-called Middle Child is a throroughly humane, and humanising, novel that all middle schoolers (and their parents) should be encouraged to read.

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