Starting middle school can be nerve-wracking. For Madeline Little it promises to be disastrous. Her best friend Elizabeth is going to a competitive private school and her beloved grandfather recently passed away, so there will be no one with whom she can share her love of scientific research. Even her father, a scientist himself, does not really appreciate her interest. If he did, how could he be willing to sell Grandpa’s house, with all his old research equipment?
Madeline’s powers of observation help her identify every flaw in her classmates’ characters. This does not bode well for making new friends. Her sister’s eighth grade attitude doesn’t help either. After managing to alienate nearly everyone in her life, though, Madeline realizes that she is not perfect herself. Can she find a way to make amends and start fresh?
Erin Teagan’s first novel examines the social challenges of pre-teens. Madeline’s dilemma is real and not uncommon, though her approach to dealing with it is somewhat exaggerated. She tends to be highly critical of others and standoffish, cutting off her nose to spite her face, so to speak. Fortunately she matures before the end of the book.
One strange and rather unnecessary feature of the story is the obsession Madeline’s mother has with a painting of a naked woman. While Madeline, her older sister and all their peers find it embarrassing, Mrs. Little insists on calling it art and displaying it publicly, even when they learn that it is a picture of Mr. Little’s mother. This “subplot” has nothing to do with the narrative and leaves the reader wondering, “What was that all about?”
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother.