A book about 5th grade friendships told from the perspective of four different girls in a variety of styles: instant messages, chatroom conversations, video scripts, and traditional text. The author seems to have a checklist of diverse characters and afflictions that all must make an appearance in the 335 page story. It is written on an AR 4.4, but with one of the main characters having two moms, details of a suicide mentioned, talk of pole dancing, male anatomy joked about, thongs, crushes, and mental illness, four girls coming together to form friendships and take down a bully, might raise more questions for young readers than they are ready to handle. Yasaman the Muslim girl in the group, also borders on perpetuating more stereotypes than she breaks, and while I definitely don’t think this book is a good fit for 4th and 5th graders, I don’t really recommend it for readers of any age, there are just better books out there.
Asian American Katie-Rose doesn’t have friends, unless you count her neighbor Max, but she doesn’t. She dreams of having blond haired Camilla as a best friend, but the Camilla she went to Pioneer camp with is not the Milla at school who hangs out with Modessa (aka Medussa) and Quin, and is popular. Katie-Rose also dreams about being a cinematographer or director, she isn’t sure yet, but she loves to imagine scenes and scripts and how things ideally should play out, even when in reality they never quite seem to do so.
Milla, isn’t sure if she wants to stay friends with Modessa and Quin, they aren’t nice and she has a lot more fun with Katie-Rose, but somehow she always ends up going back to the popular crowd. She also has a lot of anxiety and needs various totems with her at all time to feel secure. When her little plastic turtle goes missing, she struggles to stay composed, and her and her turtle will end up changing a lot at Rivendell Elementary.
Violet, is the new girl at school and she is not liking her life at home or at school. Her mom is in a mental hospital and she misses her desperately, her dad brings home fast food every night for dinner and life just isn’t the same since she moved to California. Immediately able to tell who the popular kids are at school, she hasn’t decided which group of friends is the best fit for her, but when she stumbles on Tally the turtle, and doesn’t immediately return it to Milla, she has to understand what that says about her, and figure out if she is strong enough to make things right.
Yasaman is the quiet computer wiz, she is also Turkish-American, Muslim, and a hijabi. She designs a platform where kids who are too young to join Facebook can chat, stream videos and send cupcakes. The only problem is, she has no friends to get to join. When Katie-Rose and her strike up a friendship, the first seeds of the four flower named girls are planted, but it will take all four of them to put Modessa in her place, rescue Tally, and deal with stereotypes, emotions, and family along the way.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that a Muslim, muhajaba is included in the quartet, and that her religion, her scarf, her culture, and her belief in Allah, actually are sprinkled in. I don’t love how in the book’s efforts to include such diversity, that it also seems to fall for a lot of the stereotypes that it on the surface seems to be dispelling. Katie-Rose asks her if she even knows what YouTube is before being made aware of how computer savvy she is. All this is to subtly show the assumption that Muslims are not aware of technology and whatnot, and set the record straight, but also regularly thrown in are side comments from Yasaman that her father would never let her wear something, or she wouldn’t be allowed to do that because of her dad, definitely reinforcing a male dominated, authoritarian, out-of-touch patriarchal view. Even her mother, an artist, is shown to demand a lot of Yasaman and be incredibly strict. A lot of things aren’t spelled out, they are just dropped in and assumed that the reader get’s it. But only Yasaman’s parents are portrayed this way. Milla’s two mom’s are caring, Violet and her dad seem close, and Katie-Rose’s parents are rarely highlighted. So, I felt like it was noticeable, and not in a positive way.
I’m still completely confused as why pole dancing and male anatomy made appearances in the book. And the pole dancing reference appeared not once, but twice when Yasaman is talking to an older cousin who is talking about a friend who’s aunt is a pole dancer, and then later when Katie-Rose’s babysitter also mentions the same friend. They also discuss people as being slutty and boy crazy and skanky. The male anatomy isn’t spelled out it is hidden with a girl with major orthodontia reading a Wikapedia page on the greek satyrs, discussing their physical pleasures and talents.
There is also a lot of mental health issues that I’m glad are present, but I’m not sure if they are handled seriously enough. I’m glad they are addressed, because awareness is a good thing, but discussing how someone swallowed pills to commit suicide and even though she changed her mind still died, and not giving any context seems to make the concept come across as a bit trivial to me in its presentation. Same goes for Camilla’s anxiety and Violet’s mom being in a mental hospital. These girls have some major stuff going on that their preoccupation with a snotty group of girls, and the obsession of mud being consumed in an ice cream shake, seems a bit off.
Overall, the girls seem incredible perceptive and articulate in their self reflection and understanding of social personas, that I found their banter completely disjointed. I don’t think the author’s voice is consistent, and the heavy stuff is too much coming from 5th graders in my opinion.
Stereotypes, and discrimination against Yasaman and her younger sister Nigar. Possible triggers with talk of suicide. Milla has two moms, it is never labeled or made an issue, she just refers to them as Mom Abigail and Mom Joyce. Talk of boy private parts and erections, crushes, pole dancing, words such as skanky, and slutty and dingleberry (poop hanging on) used. There is lying and bullying and retaliation and poetic justice.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t use this book for a book club or even have it in the classroom. I think it gets a bit crass unnecessarily and the cute flowery cover and inside flap, makes it all the more surprising. You might expect some potty humor in other books, but knowing it is there allows the reader to make a decision to read it or not, I would imagine most Muslim parents would see four diverse girls on the cover, one wearing hijab, get excited and hand the book to their 3rd or 4th or 5th grade daughter and have no idea what the book also includes in passing, with no relevance to the story lines highlighted on the inside flaps and back of the book.