Synopsis: Seventh grader Cassie is going through some crap, man. Her dad left seven months ago and she doesn’t know why, her family had to move out of their nice house into the run-down condos on the other side of town, and now mom is working full-time (and a lot of over-time) at a lawyer’s office instead of the part-time like before Dad left. When their regular baby-sitter moved out of the country, Cassie’s sister Miranda offered to help out around the house and with first grade brother Jackson. Miranda being responsible lasted about a month, and now Cassie’s feeling more pressure. The book actually opens with Miranda informing Cassie that it’s her turn to make dinner. Cassie takes one look in the fridge and says there’s only mustard. Miranda has a test to study for, so she’s no help. They eat Cheerios, no milk. Cassie ends up riding her bike to CVS to get milk and cat food (because cats don’t take no for an answer!) at 8 in the evening, but has to leave the milk behind. Mom is home by the time Cassie gets back, and is pretty upset that she rode her bike in the dark. Cassie doesn’t rat Miranda out, and tells mom they ate pizza. (Where’s Jackson at this moment? No first grader who ate Cheerios for dinner would stand for this lie!)
Cassie’s got her own homework, too. She is writing a novel for her English journal. It’s a fantasy adventure, with her English teacher Mr. Mullaney starring as a villain (as Sir Mullvo). They’re supposed to have 5 pages a week. The due date sneaked up on her, and she’s 3 pages short. Instead of glowing reviews, the only comment on the journal was “12.” Her friends wrote crap in their journals, and he just counted pages. Upset, Cassie begins to write stupid observations on life, like what’s in the fridge (apparently 5 different kinds of mustard) and uses for rubber bands.
Miranda leaves a note for Cassie saying she’s at a friend’s house “studying.” Jackson has a book report that needs to get done, and Miranda says she’ll owe Cassie “big time” if she does it with Jackson. Jackson can’t read the book, and Cassie ends up writing a ridiculous book report about what they would change in Farmer John’s week. The book report says things like Farmer John’s a psycho who needs to be prosecuted for animal cruelty for only feeding them once a week. Mrs. Rivera, Jackson’s teacher, calls home (probably to talk about the report), and Cassie says her mom thinks Jackson may have a reading disorder. This involves frantic phone tag for a few days.
Cassie gets called out at school by her friends. She doesn’t tell ANYONE ANYTHING about what goes on at home, and they’re starting to freeze her out. They’re saying things like she thinks she’s better than everyone, etc. It’s true on both sides, I think: they act really snobby and Cassie’s so wrapped up in her drama that I’d imagine it would be hard to be friendly. It’s official that the friendship is over when they don’t save her a seat at lunch. She ends up eating with Bess, a fat girl who’s always nice to Cassie, and it turns out they have a lot in common, like fantasy novels. Bess tells Cassie to keep writing her story because she can’t let Mr. Mullaney win their battle. Bess offers Cassie some of her books since she can’t get any more without getting rid of some. It’s a genuine offer, not a “you’re poor let me give you books” deal, so Cassie accepts. Mr. Mullaney helps Cassie find her bike key (which fell in the mud), and tells her he’s there if she needs help.
Miranda and Cassie have a few sisterly moments, like talking about their dad in an honest way, but Miranda keeps blowing the sisterly feelings it by leaving the house and not coming home til 2:15 a.m. Mom has a heart-to-heart with Cassie about what she’s been doing this week, and she just tells Mom to do the shopping, while trying to defend Miranda at the same time. Miranda explodes on Cassie, saying she needs to quit judging her and get a life. Miranda’s grounded for a month. Despite this, Miranda doesn’t come home after school on Monday, which (again) Cassie covers for her. Cassie has to make dinner, so she puts the oven on 500 and while there’s no fire, there’s definitely smoke. Miranda comes home right as the neighbor is there to investigate the smoke alarm. Cassie gets in trouble for lying about Miranda and to Jackson’s teacher. She says it was to protect Mom, but Mom gets frustrated and says she’s the one that’s supposed to do the protecting.
Mr. Mullaney took up journals, and while Cassie wrote 63 pages of goofy things (exceeding the page requirement), he asked to see her after class. He says he read the fantasy story, and was sad she wrote the dumb stuff because she’s talented. It was obvious she really needs attention, so he repeats his offer to be a listening ear. She breaks down, and as most male teachers are when a girl cries, he’s all awkward. She goes for a long bike ride, and goes home to an upset mother. Jackson spilled the beans on everything that had happened at home with Miranda skipping out, and Miranda would face the music. They get a letter from Dad saying he’ll be around soon. Jackson doesn’t need help with reading his letter.
I read this in about an hour. I thought it was a well-written book, lots of funny things going on, but a lot of sad things as well. My parents are divorced, I am a middle child, and I can totally remember when things were tough (nothing like this!). I liked Cassie’s voice and I can see where she’s judging other characters (particularly Miranda). I can’t really relate to all of the things that happened in the book, my older sis may have forgotten to be home on time twice all the years she was in charge after school vs. Miranda maybe being home three times the whole book. (In fact, one time I was locked out and my sister was in the living room taking a nap– so, maybe just once!)
- I feel for all the kids. Miranda does have her own pressures; she’s 16, she shouldn’t be in charge all the time! BUT when Mom could have hired a sitter, she offered to help out. She should have been honest when things were becoming too much. But sidenote, chemistry tests that aren’t the next day shouldn’t take precedence over feeding your little brother. Go to the store, grab some hamburger helper, then go study after you’ve fixed your 15 minute meal.
- I’m pretty amazed Cassie covered for Miranda for so long. See above nap incident? I’m pretty sure I went to the neighbors flipping out. I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut! I’ll give myself some credit, though: there’s an 8 year age difference between us vs. Cassie and Miranda’s 3-4 year difference.
- Why do kids put this much pressure on themselves? I was this type of kid too, who would start having a nervous breakdown. But eventually, don’t you stop and ask for help? I guess that’s kind of what Miranda did, but she asked the wrong person to help– she asked someone who couldn’t hold it together herself. (And I realize this is such an adult thing to say, “why can’t they admit they need help?” but I always worry about kids who want to conquer it all.)
- I’ve had multiple hysterical “what am I doing with my life”/end of semester break-downs on at least two male professors like Cassie. They handled it exactly like Mr. Mullaney did.
The Class Part:
Grades: 4-7. The back of the book says ages 9-13. I think 9 is really 3rd grade?, but I would be kind of thrown off reading this in third grade.
Grade: B+/A- (I really need a grading scale…) I liked this book, but it was a bit spastic for my taste. I could relate to the characters and the pressures they were putting on themselves, whether it be Mom for working so late to provide for the family, Miranda’s desire for “a life,” Cassie’s perfectionism and desire to protect everyone, and Jackson’s need for attention. I’m not sure if I would read it again (which is really what makes a true A in my book). I would recommend it for a student having a difficult time with life in general.