(Children’s Lit/ Middle Grade)
By Deborah Baldwin
Bea’s life gets turned upside down when a foreign student from Japan, Machiko, takes the prize role in the school play. From there, conflict between the two girls arises until one day Machiko gets stuck in the bathroom.
The writing in this thin book was enchanting. It had a flavor all of its own and rolled on and on very clearly and well. Take a look.
This was one of those times that happen about once a year in your beige life, you know? When what you’d been thinking about, dreaming about, actually happens and life gets a lot more colorful.
The author does a good job giving the main character, Bea, a unique voice, as the story is presented in first person. She grabs the inner thoughts of a girl well in this way. However, there are some flaws.
Clearly, Bea is well done. Her full name is Beatrice, but she calls her alter ego, ‘Bumbling Bea.’ It is the side of her that jumps out and sort of ruins things from time to time. If a real child did this, I’m sure some authority figure would snap on them. She tends to use her alter ego as an excuse often, but we do see real consequences when she’s too dramatic.
The other characters, besides Machiko, are sort of flat, given their favorite activity and/or personality tick. This doesn’t bother me too much, even though it was hard to keep the side characters straight. Clearly the people who matter were better drawn.
Machiko is our glimpse into another culture and offers a slightly different perspective. She is still a little too clean cut, especially compared to Bea who feels very well-rounded, but at least she wasn’t a stereotype…too much.
Like always, this is where things fall apart. The beginning was actually quite delightful. We get a little anecdote to demonstrate the destructive and/or bumbling nature of Bea. From there, I expected it to get into the main plot smoothly, and it did…but there were many bumps.
For one, even though the conflict between the girls came quickly, I couldn’t help but feel parts were missing. I was unclear when Bea found out she wasn’t going to get the lead. Then instead of bringing more tension, anytime things got rough, Machiko just ran off. Fine. I know some girls who are like that—not just middle-schoolers—but as the book progressed, more and more scenes seemed to be snipped or rushed, ultimately leaving me confused.
Then there’s the main plot. Clearly, it is between Bea and Machiko, and as you can expect, eventually they make-up and become friends, but it didn’t feel real to me. By the time the play happens, they are the bestest friends in history—somehow? I didn’t feel it or believe it. In this way, I wished more time was spent on that part.
Also, we get a little repetition, hearing the same things regarding Kabuki and Japanese culture a couple of times. It felt like the author was really trying to teach us about it by say it again and again.
And with all of this combined, it left me perplexed.
As you can see it was hard to come to a firm score for this book. Ultimately, I decided on three and a half. This was mainly due to the rushed fragments of the story. However, many parts were well written. Perhaps, the smaller nature of the book—only 155 pages—is to blame. Had the author spent a little more time filling it out, allowing the friendship and the problems to resolve themselves more naturally, then she might have had a much better book on her hands. As is, it’s good—just not wow.
P.S. The cover really needs a makeover. Right now it looks very amateurish.
Check out the book, here.
Check out the author’s site, here.