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)
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
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)