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The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills

The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills

4.4 10
by Joanna Pearson

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The Japanese hold a Mogi ceremony for young women coming of age. Latina teenagers get quinceaneras. And Janice Wills of Melva, NC ... has to compete in the Miss Livermush pageant.

Janice loves anthropology--the study of human cultures--and her observations help her identify useful rules in the chaotic world of high school. For instance: Dancing is an


The Japanese hold a Mogi ceremony for young women coming of age. Latina teenagers get quinceaneras. And Janice Wills of Melva, NC ... has to compete in the Miss Livermush pageant.

Janice loves anthropology--the study of human cultures--and her observations help her identify useful rules in the chaotic world of high school. For instance: Dancing is an effective mating ritual--but only if you're good at it; Hot Theatre Guys will never speak to Unremarkable Smart Girls like Janice and her best friend, Margo; and a Beautiful Rich Girl will always win Melva's annual Miss Livermush pageant.

But when a Hot Theatre Guy named Jimmy Denton takes an interest in Janice, all her scientific certainties explode. For the first time, she has to be part of the culture that she's always observed; and all the charts in the world can't prove how tough--and how sweet--real participation and a real romance can be.

Funny, biting, and full of wisdom, this marks the debut of a writer to watch.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
How better to survive high school than by pulling back and observing it with the cool, detached eye of an anthropologist? That's junior Janice Mills's plan, though readers will soon recognize that Janice isn't nearly as objective as she believes she is. For Janice, living in the small North Carolina town of Melva is an opportunity to engage in the kind of cultural analysis practiced by such heroes as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. As Janice puts it, "Melva is a town of biscuit-eating sports enthusiasts who smile, pray, and sing the national anthem while the town seems to be crumbling under everyone's feet." But there's a thin line between honesty and cruelty, and her judgments and assumptions are starting to cause trouble. Debut novelist Pearson has created a wonderfully insecure protagonist in Janice, one as uncomfortable in her own skin as she is in just about any social situation ("I believed in hiding my hopeless innocence behind scorn whenever possible"). Janice's path to increased self-knowledge and empathy—through the unlikeliest of avenues, the annual Miss Livermush pageant—is rewarding, honest, and quite funny. Ages 14–up. (July)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This novel, structured to include the field notes of an aspiring anthropologist reporting on the American adolescent to the editor of Current Anthropology, pleasantly repackages a somewhat predictable teen story arc with wit, solid writing, and able characterization. Gangly small-town Southerner Janice, 16, has pegged everyone in her high school into labeled categories, but what she reports about her contemporaries eventually becomes less scientific and more personal as she seeks self-realization, triumph over the ruling mean girl, and, of course, a boyfriend. Janice's disdain for the annual Miss Livermush Pageant, which pits high school juniors from all over the county in competition for a scholarship and coveted social queen status, doesn't stop her from participating to keep her friend Margo company and to report on the strange tribal practices from an insider's point of view. Janice has her first "almost-kiss" with her friend Paul, but it's her crush, cool Jimmy Denton, who lures her to her first high school keg party. Their kiss is a disaster, and her relationship with Margo, who confronts her about her detached, judgmental style, crashes as well. Janice strives to change, writing the best darn Livermush essay the pageant folks have ever seen and parading onstage in a fancy blue dress with the other finalists for the talent and interview portions of the contest. By participating in the local rites of adolescence, she rights her own wrongs and begins to see her peers as more than just members of anthropological cliques.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA
From the Publisher

“[A] laugh-out-loud debut . . . All along the way, she imparts amusing quips on high school’s taxonomy of students and the small-town South, occasionally illustrating her observations with frequently hysterical diagrams, pie charts and graphs. . . . Serve to readers who like their chick lit with a side of humor.” -- Kirkus Reviews
VOYA - Devin Johnston
This book uses a professional setting to describe teenage life. All of these types of books have astonished this reviewer, and Rites does not tarnish that record. It maintains a fabulous narrative, feeling professional while maintaining that it is a teenager describing the story. Side notes litter the book, adding fun yet "serious" quips throughout. Art, consisting of graphs and sidebars, add a fun and semi-professional feel to the book, but the book can happily stand on its own. Reviewer: Devin Johnston, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Barbara Allen
A high school setting is the perfect place to study anthropology and Janice Wills gets to see from the inside. All her life she has wanted to study cultures. Janice realizes that she is smack in the middle of her greatest anthropological opportunity with the Miss Livermush Pageant that her town puts on every year. She will get to study it from the inside. Janice has her whole school divided into cultural sub-populations that include groups like: Hot Theater Guys, Unremarkable Smart Girls, Beautiful Rich Girls, Smart Pretties, and even Dumb Pretties. The Beautiful Rich Girls(BRG) have always made Janice's life horrible. Margo and Janice have a falling out when Margo chooses to go to a party with the BRG's and lies to Janice about it. At the same party, Janice goes off with Hot Theater Guy and he basically tries to force himself on her after telling her his big secret about being bi-sexual. Margo walks in and yells at Janice for using anthropology as a way to hide from life instead of living it. Of course, they make up just in time for the pageant. During the pageant, Janice learns that there is more to life than her study of life—there is living it. She also finally notices that her best guy friend is in love with her. A lot can happen when you stop observing and start living. This anthropological observation-style novel is unique and provides a great social commentary on the life of teenagers. It is a cute story that includes mentions of bi-sexuality, some strong language, and the hint that the Hot Theater Guy might push Janice too far, but it remains a fun look at life in small town Southern society. Reviewer: Barbara Allen
Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
Janice is navigating through high school in Melva, North Carolina, under the cover of her interest in anthropology. She makes constant notes on her observations of fellow students relating their behaviors to facts discovered in her extensive research. Bookish and nerdy, Janice is observing life rather than participating in it. She at first refuses to enter the annual Miss Livermush Pageant, not wanting to parade in front of judges and the public in an uncomfortable fancy dress and come up with a talent performance. When she decides to become more of a participant in life, she enters into the ups and downs common to teens. She deals with the high school bullies and the loss (temporarily) of her best friend. She experiences a disappointing first kiss and later a much more satisfying one (with a different guy). She does enter the pageant and is recognized for her writing and speaking abilities. Chapters are headed with "Anthropological Observations" and Margaret Mead is quoted throughout. Information about classmates is presented as anthropological facts. A fresh and intriguing look at the universality of the joys and the struggles of high school. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
Kirkus Reviews

Who better to study adolescent behavior than Janice Wills, a budding anthropologist and teenager herself?

In this laugh-out-loud debut, the high-school junior's first-hand observations, under the guise of field notes to the editor of Current Anthropology, center on her North Carolina town's most anticipated annual event: Melva's Miss Livermush Pageant. Janice is certain that entering and observing this competition, which "celebrates everyone's favorite pork liver–based processed meat by marching twenty young women in ridiculous dresses across a stage," is her ticket to a published article. (Yes, livermush is a real food!) As Janice prepares for this awesome event ("and by awesome, I mean cheesy and fantastic"), her best friends help her realize that she's been using her role as anthropologist to judge from the sidelines rather than participate in the world around her. And when she tries to find a pageant escort, she discovers that for all of her time observing, she has no insight into the patterns of adolescent male behavior. All along the way, she imparts amusing quips on high school's taxonomy of students and the small-town South, occasionally illustrating her observations with frequently hysterical diagrams, pie charts and graphs. Although one of her prospects secretly confesses to being bisexual (seemingly taboo in this town of traditions), its impact is glossed over. Nevertheless, the characters add to the light yet solid story's charm.

Serve to readers who like their chick lit with a side of humor. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Joanna Pearson grew up in the actual Livermush Capital of the World -- Shelby, North Carolina. She recently received both her MD and MFA degrees from the Johns Hopkins University, and her work has appeared in The New York Times and The Journal of the American Medical Association. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland. This is her first novel.

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Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nathiel More than 1 year ago
This book was funny, charming and bittersweet at times, although sometimes I felt it was a typical teenager book, much like gossip girl and such. The main character is Janice a young girl who is your typical awkward to intelligent for her own good- teenager. Janice wants to be an anthropologist and as so sees everything from a distance, until her mom tries to convince her to participate in Miss Livermush pageant (shudder) and in the end Janice agrees so that she can actually have some in site for a project she's making. Then you have the best friend, who might not be exceptionally bright or beautiful, but tends to get in trouble with the popular girls, in this story she's called Margo. You've also got the popular athletic guy, who seems all good, until he isn't, and his name is Jimmy. And the male best friend who we all know has got hots for his best friend. And the "queen of the school" who is of course tall, beautiful and rich, and she has a group of girls who follow her around. But after saying that this book does have some things that make it unique, such as the references to how people come to age in different cultures and the Pony dance (I totally want to learn it) Overall an enjoyable book and a good light summer read.
purplerose75 More than 1 year ago
As a former high school nerd, there probably wasn't much chance of me not liking this book. Fortunately, unlike Janice, I was never required to enter a local (or any other) scholarship pageant. In Janice's case, it's either participate in the Miss Livermush pageant or be shunned forever. She really doesn't care. As a budding anthropologist, she is content to watch from the sidelines as her family and friends (and enemies) go through life. Her mother, however, has decided that life as she knows it will absolutely end if Janice doesn't enter the pageant. So, with several goals in mind, including adding a chapter about coming-of-age rituals to her ever-growing anthology paper, she finally agrees to enter. The experience changes Janice in ways she never expected. In The Rites & Wrongs of Janice Wills, Janice learns more about herself and how she views the world (and how the world views her) than she does about the pageant. And I learned what livermush is. Ewww. I won this book in a Goodreads First-Read giveaway.
taraps More than 1 year ago
I had to wait to get this book because my store was out when I first tried to get a copy, but it was worth the wait! Janice Will is such a great, witty narrator with an accurate assessment of life in high school. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely recommend it to others looking for a funny, touching take on life in high school.
EPreston More than 1 year ago
Funny and astute, this book is true to the experience of growing up awkward in the Deep South (as well, one assumes, as anywhere). Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary333ML More than 1 year ago
This was a hilarious and quick read with a warm and easy-to-relate-to voice. The town reminds me of the town where I grew up! Read it - it's a totally great, fun, cool book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great for any season, really! Funny and smart approach to a coming-of-age tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so funny!
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
Janice Wills is an observer. She enjoys sitting on the sidelines and watching her fellow classmates move through the tricky and often confusing landscape that is high school. This also works well to promote her interest in anthropological studies. But Janice's junior year may prove to be a little different than the previous years. For one, there is the overrated Miss Livermush Pageant, which Janice thinks is over-hyped and underwhelming. Plus, there are two boys vying for Janice's attention, making her observations and studies become even more important! The Rites & Wrongs of Janice Wills was a cute and wholesomely innocent book. The note-taking interruptions were funny and worked well as a literary convention. Perhaps like-minded readers will be inspired to take notes of their own! Joanna Pearson has a sunny style of writing. All of the characters in the book were seemingly happy all of the time and often funny as well. I am usually a little wary of the getting-revenge-on-the-popular-girls story, but this book has a lot of heart. I found myself rooting for not only Janice, but for her friends Paul and Margot as well. And nice cover! It was a perfect fit with the book.