October 2007

Climbing the rungs of the social ladder

By Gennifer Choldenko
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On its face, Gennifer Choldenko's first novel is the story of Kirsten, a seventh-grader whose life seems to be falling apart. She has put on a lot of weight, her parents are arguing, and, when school begins, her best friends have joined the mean girls group, leaving her alone. But there is much more to this story.

Choldenko's accessible, amusing novel in two voices turns its penetrating eye on the social vibe at a San Francisco private school and its students and families. Everyone in this moneyed society is trying to find out where he or she belongs. Kirsten narrates her chapters with a fresh, nervous, insecure voice that could be Every Nice Seventh-Grade Girl. She worries about her clothes, her backpack, her seat at lunch, the way her hair looks and her weight. She hates her giggle, her voice, the way her fat wiggles when she runs. The other narrator is a third person voice that sounds a lot like the other main character. Walk is confident, secure and not at all concerned about how others perceive him. He is new to Mountain School, a black kid from the decaying City School, on scholarship. Brianna, the blonde Alpha-girl, will be recognizable to anyone who can still remember middle school. With a sneaky smile, a rich mom willing to make things happen for her little girl and a cadre of buddies longing to do her bidding, Brianna seems to have everyone wrapped around her finger, and Walk just doesn't get it. What is her power? Why does she matter?

There are so many fascinating characters in this story: mothers who are overly concerned with their social standing; students who spend more time worrying about their social life than academics; one lovely boy who is willing to sell Amway to save money for private school; adults who must come to terms with the secrets they have kept for far too long; and kids who try to figure out if they matter. This is a perfect book for classroom or parent-child book clubs. It begs to be read over and over.


Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher in Nashville.

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If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

By Gennifer Choldenko
ISBN 9780152057534

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