Baskin (The Summer Before Boys) again offers an on-target portrayal of middle-school angst as she portrays the day-to-day torments of students in a sixth-grade class. In a series of brief vignettes, she moves between classmates including “Smelly-Girl” Elizabeth, who can’t shake the lingering scent (or shed hair) of her mother’s dog-sitting business; Elizabeth’s nemesis, Maggie, who is “used to winning things,” but hasn’t been able to repair her fallout with her artistically talented former best friend Freida; and Stewart and Matthew, two athletes whose rivalry leads to a fight and a suspension. Although their backgrounds and interests are different, all of Baskin’s characters have experienced the pain of humiliation or exclusion in one way or another, and most of them recognize that life was simpler back when the whole class was still invited to birthday parties. Rather than providing tidy, concrete solutions to the characters’ dilemmas and the class’s pecking order, Baskin delivers an honest message about surviving bad situations and remaining true to oneself and one’s friends. Ages 8–12. Agent: Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (July)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Pretty Maggie Carey and her two satellites plague Elizabeth Moon. Their preferred method of cruelty is "advice" in the guise of kindness. The boys in their sixth-grade class have their own nemesis in the form of Stewart Gunderson. The bullying escalates, culminating in Maggie cyberbullying Elizabeth and Stewart urinating on Matthew Berry. Revenge dominates the thoughts of the victims as the middle-school dance approaches. The boys follow through with theirs, but Elizabeth chooses instead to confront Maggie. This is laudable but her gullibility as she falls for yet another fake overture of friendship is frustrating and incredible. Runt is written in a kaleidoscopic manner, including first-person student narratives; third-person scenarios; sundry documents; and, occasionally, outsiders' viewpoints, among them, those of a dog and a public librarian. A few of these asides are unnecessary distractions. The six main characters are complex individuals who defy the usual stereotypes. The students' skirmishes parallel the power struggles among the dogs at Elizabeth's house that are also maneuvering for position and acceptance. As Sadie, the Saint Bernard, states at the end, "I want to know where I belong. Just like you." Overall, Runt is an honest, occasionally humorous portrait of life in the sixth grade, and an additional purchase on the topic of bullying.—Kathy Cherniavsky, Ridgefield Library, CT
Bullies and the bullied: Could it help if they just better understood each other? Baskin (Anything But Typical, 2009) has proven that she can sensitively handle the complex interpersonal relationships of the middle school set. Here, she takes on a daunting project, presenting a couple of separate bullying incidents from the perspectives of a variety of the players. Elizabeth's growing up in an impoverished, single-parent home. Her notably lackadaisical mother takes in pets for an inadequate living, but Elizabeth, responsible and sensitive, handles the chores. Maggie--who's become a middle school diva and turned her back on former best friend Freida--decides (but later regrets) to seek revenge for a perceived slight in the form of Elizabeth and Freida's evolving friendship by creating a nasty social media page in Elizabeth's name. Meanwhile, Matthew punches career bully (and richly deserving) Stewart after the hostile boy urinates on his leg. Does Stewart's back story--a disabled sister--explain his behavior? Since it, like Maggie's, is only sketched, not really. More information about the bullies and less about the bystanders would have been welcome. The often blundering attempts of the school administration to intervene are appropriately made light of and the nearly hopeless situations of some victims vividly illustrated, although a few glimmers of hope appear at the conclusion. A thought-provoking and worthy effort on a multifaceted, seemingly all but insurmountable, problem. (Fiction. 9-14)
Children's Literature - Justina Engebretson
Elizabeth Moon is learning that middle school can be a dog-eat-dog world ... a world where everyone knows who the runt of the litter is and who the top dog is ... a world that very much resembles the order of life amongst the dogs that occupy her mother's boarding kennel. Kids like Elizabeth, Freida, and Matthew know a thing or two about life as the runt, while kids like Maggie and Stewart seem to know the privileges of life as the top dog. Then, there are kids like Ethan who fall somewhere in between and are uncertain about their specific roles. In this middle reader, Baskin portrays the pecking order of middle school life from the poignantly honest perspective of several students whose lives are more intertwined than they realize. Such a unique perspective allows readers a look into the seemingly perfect life of the top dog/bully, the pressured and uncertain existence of those in the middle, and the misery felt by the runt/victim. These perspectives work together to achieve differing levels of compassion and insight. This book will force readers to consider life from perspectives other than their own. Two responses to bullying are seen: getting even and rising above. Two main themes resonate: compassion and courage. The content of this book is rather weighty, and there is some minor profanity, which may make this book inappropriate for the suggested audience listed on the jacket of the book. The book would most likely be better appreciated and understood by older students, including those entering their first year of high school, as well as adults. Overall, this book is well-written and is sure to evoke readers' emotions. Reviewer: Justina Engebretson
Read an Excerpt
My mother says male dogs will fight. They will rise up on their hind legs and go for each other’s necks. They will bare their teeth, snarl and bite, until one or the other gives up and then it’s all over. And we can keep those two dogs right in the same room for the whole rest of their stay with us. As long as one is submissive, there won’t be any more trouble, except for maybe a growl or two around their dinner bowls. Once boy dogs know the pecking order, it’s all peaceful.
But girl dogs, my mother says, will fight to the death.
If we get an alpha female dog here, she’ll go after the others and she won’t give up, even when the other girl dog shows submission. If any dog got hurt while we were watching them, that would be the end of our business. But we agreed to take Sadie before we knew what she was like.
I don’t always think my mother is right about the dogs. But after what happened with Sadie, my mom said she had a sneaking feeling all along. Sadie is a Saint Bernard so she’s big, really big, and dogs know how big they are, believe me. It’s like she knows just how much she weighs, which is about one hundred and seventy pounds. When I first met her, she leaned on me.
“That’s just what she does,” the owner said. “She’s saying hello. But she can’t talk.”
Like I didn’t know that.
“It’s her way of hugging you,” the owner went on.
I could tell they were anxious to get out of there. They were going to Club Med or Paradise Island or Disney World or something like that. They had a limo to catch to take them to the airport. I was just guessing that, but most everyone who brings their dog here is going somewhere.
But Sadie was not hugging me, that should have been the first clue. She was showing me who’s boss and she thinks it’s her. When the owner lady was not looking, I shoved Sadie back.
I bent down and looked her in the eye. “Not in my house,” I whispered.