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Clarissa "Rissa" Bartholomew has grown weary of her family, wearing hand-me-downs from her well-to-do friend Beth and following the "herd": her four closest friends, with whom she doesn't seem to have much in common anymore. Rissa begins middle school determined to be independent, though with her ex-friends avoiding her, she soon discovers that independence isn't all it's cracked up to be: "In fact, I felt like I was being punished." Debut novelist Comerford, a PW reviewer, realistically conveys Rissa's feelings, from her nervousness about becoming a teenager ("I'd lived with one.... Mary Ann was a very weepy individual, and it made me think that teen life must be pretty hard") to her compassion for unpopular nerd Brian. Rissa's narrative is peppered with humorous musings, and the supporting characters are distinctive as well (Rissa's mother feels less useful as her daughters grow up, and Rissa's friend Beth vacillates between being spoiled and sensitive as she, too, tries to find herself). An accident involving Brian-he is injured and Rissa is suspended-teaches Rissa that independence doesn't necessarily mean going it alone. Her conflicts should resonate with middle-school readers. Ages 9-12. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.