In Tara Altebrando's middle grade debut, she manages to nail middle school Mean Girls behavior to the point where reading The Battle of Darcy Lane made me feel like I was back in middle school again, much to my chagrin. Because despite being a lover of middle schoolers and of teaching that age group, it reminded me just how much I don't want to go back there. But it is for that reason that books like The Battle of Darcy Lane are important. They show kids and remind adults just how hard it is to survive this time in your life -- and that it does get better. Thankfully, Julia has the support and love of her wonderful parents, which to me is what makes this book stand out among others. There are so many books written for kids and teens where the parents are either absent or completely clueless. Instead, Altebrando gives our main character Julia the loving support of a fully competent mom and dad. And yet, despite that support, Julia's struggle is still difficult and painful. Altebrando shows that no matter how great your parents are, growing up is still hard.
Readers will find the ending of The Battle of Darcy Lane both satisfying and open-ended. There are places where our young protagonist is vindicated, and there are also places where we see that things didn't change for her. Despite that, she goes on living and growing up. Just like in real life.
I started this book Saturday night and finished it Sunday morning. I rarely finish a book in less than 24 hours, but this one just completely captured me.
While this is middle grade, it is definitely older middle grade -- something I'd give to a student who is on the verge of being ready for YA since there are more mature situations than the average middle grade novel, such as first-time bra shopping, first crushes, and implied expletives (though not actually spelled out).
I would hand sell this book to any middle schooler who is feeling down about a lost friendship or perhaps a girl or group of girls who might need to see their own Mean Girl behavior played out in novel form. I could see this being quite a strategic literature circle pick or read aloud in the classroom.
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando*
Expected Publication: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher
*Purchasing the book from the above Bookshop affiliate link supports independent bookstores and gives me a small percentage of the sale.