Misfit Tally is forced to room with queen bee Ava on the seventh grade field trip to Washington, DC, and discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder—in this timely new novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal.
During a class trip to DC, twelve-year-old Tally and her best friends, Sonnet and Caleb (a.k.a. Spider) are less than thrilled when they are assigned roommates and are paired with kids who are essentially their sworn enemies. For Tally, rooming with “clonegirl” Ava Seely feels like punishment, rather than potential for fun.
But the trip is full of surprises. Despite a pact to stick together as much as they can, Sonnet pulls away, and spider befriends Marco, the boy who tormented him last year. And Marco just might “like” Tally—what’s that about?
But the uneasy peace in Ava and Tally’s room is quickly upended when Tally begins to suspect something is off about Ava. She has a weird notebook full of random numbers, and doesn’t seem to eat anything during meals. When Tally confronts Ava, Ava threatens to share an embarrassing picture of Tally with the class if Tally says anything to anyone about her suspicions. But will Tally endanger more than her pride by keeping her secret?
This is one class trip full of lessons Tally will never forget: how to stay true to yourself, how to love yourself and embrace your flaws, and how being a good friend can actually mean telling a secret you promised to keep…--from the publisher
320 pages 978-1534405073 Ages 9-13
Tally isn't particularly thrilled about the class trip to Washington, D.C., but the thought of being with best friends Sonnet and Spider makes it somewhat better. When head teacher chaperone Ms. Jordan makes her room with the popular Ava, and even worse, puts Spider with Marco, who had bullied him the previous year, Tally is not pleased. When the group finally gets to the patriotic themed hotel, Sonnet ends up with Haley, and Tally gets along better than she expected with Ava. She does notice, however, that Ava eats very little, and spends all of the free time in the hotel working out in the gym. Ava's mother, Mrs. Seeley, is along as one of the chaperones, and Tally witnesses some of the mother-daughter interactions that indicate that Ava's home life is not all that pleasant. Sonnet seems to be enjoying herself with Haley, and Spider and Marco are getting along extremely well, to the point where Spider accuses Tally of always having to protect him. Feeling left out, Tally makes the poor choice to dye her hair with products purchased at the hotel gift shop, and the result is less than attractive. Tally makes many interesting choices about personal adornment to show that she doesn't care what others think, but this makes her self conscious. Ava and her mother end up being very supportive, but Ava does not react well to Tally's concern about her eating habits. There's lots of drama, lots of sights to see, and a lot to be learned about how people who normally don't interact can get to know and care about each other when normal circumstances change.
Strengths: Always glad to see a book about a trip to D.C. instead of another class election, and this does a good job of including details about the sites AND the attendant drama that frequently occurs. Eating disorder books are always interesting to students, and seeing Ava through Tally's eyes is a good change from the first person narratives I've seen in the past. Also good is the portrayal of Tally's friendships, and how they change when the students are away from their normal routines. All in all, an engaging and timely book that should be included in all middle school collections. Dee has an excellent eye for timely problems that lack adequate literary representation, which is a skill every bit as important as her ability to tell a good story.
Weaknesses: There were some details of the trip that were very unlike the D.C. trip at our school-- a chaperone would never be able to go off alone with just two students, there is a LOT more free time than we give kids (seriously, the bus rolls out at 7 a.m. and we get back at 11 p.m., which leaves no time for movie watching or random hair dying!), and Ava is not old enough to use the exercise facilities in most hotels. Those are small quibbles, but I might say something to the readers in my school who pick up the book before going on our D.C. trip. Tally was not a likable character to me, but she wasn't so horrible that it interfered with my enjoyment of the story.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing to have on hand with Carlson's Faded Denim, Barson's 45 Pounds More or Less, Lytton's Jane in Bloom, Anderson's Wintergirls, Padian's Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, Porter's Dance of Sisters, Maschari's Things That Surprise You, Knowle's Still a Work in Progress, and the ur-anorexia novel, Levenkron's The Best Little Girl in the World.
Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA
See more of her recommendations: msyinglingreads.blogspot.com