Until her mother's death, Marianne was an attentive, motivated student. Now she daydreams in class and doesn't do her work, despite the efforts of her father and her teacher. To Marianne, school is not as relevant to her life as worrying about the dingy apartment she and her father live in, her wish to own a wolf hybrid (half-wolf, half-dog) and the pushy girl who lives across the way. With the help of her friend Jeff, the class clown, Marianne manages to make it through the school days. Not until she and her father move to a new house does Marianne begin to settle into a routine againone that includes her wolf-dog and a new neighbor, Lacy, who may become her stepmother. Although the ending is somewhat predictable in this prequel to Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade , DeClements has written a provocative story about one girl's loneliness. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6 Marianne desperately misses her mother, killed in an airplane crash; she and her father are living temporarily in a stark apartment; and her pesky neighbor, Brittany, awaits her after school. Encouraged by a sympathetic teacher and the smart-aleck class cut-up, Jack, Marianne works through her loneliness and feelings of abandonment; moves to a new home; gets a puppy; and is happily anticipating the addition of a perfect stepmother at the novel's end. An expert at creating believable classroom situations and realistic dialogue between students, DeClements is less successful with adult characters. These are one-dimensional, stock figures, especially Marianne's father, who seems to sleepwalk through life, oblivious to his only child's very understandable problems and unhappiness. In addition, the humor and realism of the school situation trivialize the sober theme of what a parent's sudden death can do to a nine year old. In O'Neal's A Formal Feeling (Viking, 1982) and Girion's A Tangle of Roots (Putnam, 1985) , both for slightly older children, the feelings engendered by similar tragic events are explored and developed without such abrupt mood shifts. This prequel to Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade (1981) and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You (1985, both Viking) will appeal to middle-grade readers seeking another fast-paced, undemanding school story. Those looking for depth of characterization and descriptions of children in crisis will be better served elsewhere. Martha Rosen, Edgewood School, Scarsdale, N.Y.