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Children's Literature"Madame Squidley" is what Beanie's mother calls herself when she is pretending to be a fortune teller, peering into the future by means of a "malodorous yet mysterious" magical onion. Her zany sense of humor is the wonderful thing about Beanie's mother. The terrible thing about Beanie's mother is her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which prevents her from working and confines her to bed much of the day, leaving Beanie to care for her little brother, Jerm (Beanie's father died when she was a toddler). Beanie's best friend, Charles, has serious problems, too: his divorced parents bicker bitterly over whether or not he should wear a back brace for his scoliosis. Nor do a sick mother and a back brace make for popularity at school. Mead does a wonderful job of showing Beanie's rollercoaster of difficult emotions: love for her mother, fear for her mother, anger at her mother, loyalty toward Charles, embarrassment at Charles—and most of all, puzzlement at her own increasingly out-of-control and unpredictable behavior, culminating in the moment when she tells her new fifth-grade teacher that she hates her. Is Beanie just "a self-pitying slug, slithering along on her narrow trail of slime"? Or does she legitimately have a lot to pity herself for? Mead does not offer Beanie any pat answers. Her conclusion, movingly depicted, is that life just is hard for some kids, and that while self-pity does not help, determination, compassion, and laughter do. 2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 8 to 12.