Gr 5–6—Poor Bessica doesn't think things can get any worse. On the same day, she learns that her best friend, Sylvie, is going to a different school and that her grandma is going on a six-week trip, leaving her to navigate her upcoming entry into middle school on her own. How will she know how to avoid the dweebs, the psycho-bullies, and the alts? How will she know which clubs to join and which table to sit at in the lunchroom? And will she ever get her locker open? Bessica takes everything very seriously, but many of the situations in which she finds herself are humorous. She is an "everytween" with the typical myopia of the age, and as such many readers will relate to her struggle to find a place to belong and applaud her hard-won position in the middle-school hierarchy.—Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI
After an unfortunate incident at the hair salon, Bessica is not allowed to see her best friend, Sylvie. That means she's going to start middle school a-l-o-n-e. Bessica feels like such a loser. She wants friends. She's just not sure how to make them.
It doesn't help that her beloved grandma is off on some crazy road trip and has zero time to listen to Bessica. Or that Bessica has a ton of homework. Or that gorgeous Noll Beck thinks she's just a kid. Or that there are some serious psycho-bullies in her classes. Bessica doesn't care about being popular. She just wants to survive—and look cute. Is that too much to ask when you're eleven?
"Funny, goofy, anxious, and absolutely emotionally authentic." --The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred Review
"Many a middle school girl will find a piece of herself in Bessica Lefter." --VOYA
Middle school trauma is the subject of this slice-of-life novel featuring irrepressible Bessica, who's named after Bessica Raiche, "the first American woman to intentionally pilot a solo flight." Bessica is eager to start sixth grade with her best friend Sylvie, but Sylvie's mother, believing Bessica is a "dangerous influence," enrolls her daughter in a different school. As Bessica learns of her friend's abandonment, she also finds out that her beloved grandmother is leaving on a six-week road trip. A lonely Bessica bravely endures her predictably disastrous first days at her new school, where she has run-ins with "psycho-bullies," forgets her locker combination, is accused of breaking a vending machine, and misses opportunities to secure new friendships. While humorous episodes lighten the mood, the heroine's misery drags on too long, and her first-person narrative (peppered with such expressions as "Oh my heck") feels strained at times. Nonetheless, Tracy (Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus) offers a positive and comforting message about learning to make adjustments, ending the book on a happy note, with Bessica finding her niche as school mascot. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
"Bessica's voice is funny, goofy, anxious, and absolutely emotionally authentic . . . Readers negotiating their own middle-school minefields or soaking up all the preparatory information they can find will breathlessly follow Bessica's escapades." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred Review
"Both family and school are believable, but, appropriately, this is all about Bessica, a character whose newfound bear persona schoolmates and readers alike can applaud." Kirkus Reviews
"Although it's not always easy to like Bessica, it is hard not to laugh with her as she loses her cool in the presence of her hunky teenage neighbor, jump ropes her way into the role of school mascot in furry pants, and tries to make nice with the school bullies. A supporting star of the story is Bessica's tech-savvy grandma, who, even while away on a spelunking trip with her latest man friend, reminds Bessica of the power of positive thinking. Grandma also illustrates the important moral of this story: "Look for happiness and you'll find it."" Booklist
"A fun and realistic story of a girl reinventing herself. . . . The reader cannot help but cheer her onher voice is funny and true and very sympathetic. Many a middle school girl will find a piece of herself in Bessica Lefter." VOYA
"[Bessica] is an "everytween" with the typical myopia of the age, and as such many readers will relate to her struggle to find a place to belong and applaud her hard-won position in the middle-school hierarchy." School Library Journal
"This is a story about the perils of middle school, with a strong and irresistible protagonist. . . . Bessica’s determination is infectious, and courageous. Faced with one humiliation after another, she manages to triumph, and it makes the ending that much more of a payoff. Tracy uses just the right touch of humor to keep the story fun, yet still take seriously some painful side effects of growing up." Parents' Choice
Bessica Lefter looked forward to middle school until a rash decision to get matching pixie haircuts led to her having to negotiate the new school entirely on her own, without her longtime best friend Sylvie. Well-meaning adults and former students give her conflicting advice. On her own she finds it hard to avoid the psycho-bullies and make new friends. Eating cookies from the vending machine in "loner town" had not been her plan. On top of that, her grandmother and best ally has gone off on a trip in her new friend Willy's motor home. One subplot revolves around Bessica's use of an online-dating service to find her grandmother a more suitable friend. Another involves Bessica's efforts to join the cheerleading squad, although she doesn't like to be upside down. The first-person narration reveals the inconsistencies of preteendom, the magnified problems and rapid emotional swings. Both family and school are believable, but, appropriately, this is all about Bessica, a character whose newfound bear persona schoolmates and readers alike can applaud.(Fiction. 9-13)
Read an Excerpt
I stared into the dark, cavernous hole with my best friend, Sylvie. I didn't know what had made the hole or how far down it went or if its bottom contained dangerous sludge. To be honest, neither Sylvie nor I cared that much about holes. The less we knew about this one, the better.
"I'm not sure," Sylvie said.
This was the sort of thing Sylvie Potaski always said. She wasn't the kind of person who would go down in history for leading a revolution where people burned flags or bras. She was the kind of person who would check with other people (several times) about what they thought about burning flags or bras. Some people might consider this a shortcoming. But I didn't mind it. Or that she repeatedly licked her fingers after she peeled an orange. Sylvie Potaski was my best friend.
Sylvie stopped looking into the hole and started looking at our diary again. Every page was full. This wasn't because of me. It was Sylvie. She was detail-oriented. She couldn't just write in the diary that she saw a tree. She'd tell you how green the leaves were and how brown the bark was and how much shade the tree gave and if there happened to be a bird in it. I'd read every word she wrote in our diary. And she'd read every word I wrote. Because our diary was collaborative, which meant that we each paid for half of it and we both got to use it.
Writing in it had been a lot of fun. We'd passed the diary back and forth for three years. At one point, we thought about keeping a blog instead, but then we saw a story on the news about two girls in Utah who had one, and they posted lots of pictures of their cats, and they got over one hundred thousand hits a month. Sylvie and I didn't want one hundred thousand hits a month, so we kept writing in our diary.
Except it wasn't fun anymore. Because I didn't want anybody finding what we'd written. Some of it was stupid. Actually, a ton of it was. And I regretted that. Especially the stuff I wrote in third grade about liking Kettle Harris. He turned out to be such a dork. And if I went to middle school and somebody managed to find written proof that I liked a dork, I'd be bummed for the rest of my life. And ostracized. Which was what popular kids did to dorks and people who liked dorks. It basically meant that you lived inside an imaginary trash can and that nobody talked to you.
Sylvie held our diary over the hole, but she didn't drop it. I hadn't expected this event to take all afternoon. I sighed. I wanted to go to the big irrigation canal across from my house and observe the flotsam, and then go inside and watch television, and then beg my grandmother to drive us to the mall.
"What if I lock it inside something in my bedroom?" Sylvie asked.
"That's a terrible idea," I said. "Anytime you lock something up, you're just begging for it to get stolen." That was why criminals robbed bikes from bike racks. Didn't she know that?
"Sylvie, remember the pages where we left our toe prints and then wrote poems to our toes?"
Sylvie blinked. Sylvie was always blinking.
"And remember all those awful pictures we drew of our classmates with fart bubbles near their butts?"
Sylvie nodded. Those particular drawings occurred in fourth grade. The fart bubbles had been my idea. But she was the one who sketched them.
"The diary needs to disappear. When we show up at North Teton Middle School, we can't be haunted by our pasts. We need to walk down those halls like two brand-new people."
Sylvie looked up at me and did more blinking.
"Just toss it," I said.
"But what if one day when I'm old, like thirty, I want to look back at how I was feeling and thinking when I was in elementary school?"
"That will never happen," I said. "Trust me."
I wanted the diary out of my life. In addition to its being embarrassing, I thought Sylvie had grown too attached to it. Sylvie held the notebook tightly as she stared down into the hole. The ground where we stood was about to have a storage lot built on top of it for farm equipment. And after that happened, after it was covered with a thick coat of cement, after front-end loaders and tractors and hay balers were parked there, our diary would be buried forever.
"Can I keep one part that means a lot to me?" she asked.
And even though I wanted her to throw the whole thing away, I also had a soft heart. And so I said, "Okay. But it has to be ten pages or less."
Sylvie opened the diary and tugged at a group of pages in its center. After she ripped them out, she folded them carefully and put them in her back pocket.
"What did you save?" I asked.
"My drawings of the ocean," Sylvie said.
And that really surprised me. Because those drawings weren't so hot. When Sylvie finally dropped the diary into the hole, the pages fluttered in the breeze like a bird trying to fly. Except it didn't fly. The diary dropped like a rock. Lower and lower. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. It smacked against the side of the hole as it tumbled. And then the sounds ended.
"Kiss it goodbye," I said. "That thing is in China now."
I walked away from that hole in the ground, feeling like I'd solved something important.
"We're about to have the best year of our lives," I said.