By: Elizabeth Atkinson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: January 2013
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: May 18, 2013
Puh-lease! There just had to be another eleven-year-old in the new neighborhood. Alice Bunt and her family had moved from Boston to this cookie-cutter house on Hemlock Trail in Oakville. Alice’s mom commuted to Boston to work and she had a SAHD. Jim, her “stay-at-home-dad” was awesome, but that sort of thing was a little different. He told her to invite the neighbors over to have a bite of dessert, but there wasn’t anyone close to her age. Alice thought to herself, “The Reeds are dull, the Lees are rude, and the Kings are a nightmare!” True, but then she met Zenithal Stevie Wonder Malinowski. Zen for short.
Zen was as good as it gets in the age department being a year older than Alice, but he sure was different. Alice had “little interest in typical girl stuff like dolls and jewelry and makeup,” but Zen read “Tween Magazine” and curled and crimped his hair with a curling iron. Seriously, he did. And he knew all about fashion and wanted to eventually open a “total body salon.” Zen’s grandmother, Babs, only had eyes for Andy Griffith, but Zen had his eyes on Alice. He was going to make her into a perfectly popular and prissy student for the first day of school at Sachem Regional Middle School.
Alice was really interested in fitting in and went along with Zen’s plan. He was a perfect friend and gave her quizzes that would help her pick out friends that were high on the popularity scale and Rebecca Aulowitz wasn’t one of them. Rebecca smiled at Alice and looked like someone she’d like, but ignore was the word for it. Alice soon was in the “in” crowd and loving every minute of it. Not. Alice was going to sit with Zen in the lunchroom when Haley exclaimed, “He’s only the weirdest, most revolting person in the entire school district.” All the popular girls wanted to do was gossip, act mean, and watch “Another Life.” Where had the real Alice Bunt disappeared to? Did she really want to be popular?
This is a fabulous tale of Alice Bunt and her struggle to be true to herself. Most ‘tweeners are insecure when they first enter middle school, but Alice has to decide whether she wants to be popular or just be plain old Alice. Zen of course, is a young man who has to deal with the angst of being who he is without wavering. He’s just Zen and wouldn’t change himself for the world. There is a haven for him in a “bizarre church that made everyone feel so normal,” but Alice doesn’t know which way to turn. The tale is perhaps one that plays itself out in every middle school and is one that most young people can relate to. The twist at the end was an excellent culmination to a truly unique tale that will appeal to a wide audience. It’s a marvelous tale that tells its young audience that diversity and individuality are very special things.
Quill says: This is a perfect book for those 'tweeners who need to know that it's fine to be who they are ... perfect actually!