Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

Julia is looking forward to a long, lazy summer with her best friend Taylor. She doesn't expect anything more memorable than the emergence of the dormant cicadas. But then Alyssa moves in. Alyssa is new, sophisticated, exciting....mean. She seems to hate Julia from the beginning for no reason and worst of all, she steals Taylor away. She also brings a new game, Russia, and Julia finds herself challenging Alyssa. If she wins the battle of Russia will she win back Taylor and make everything go back to the way it was?

This isn't a screed against bullying or mean girls or about Growing Up, although all those things are included. The hot, lazy summer is perfectly capture, the prose is lovely in its simplicity, and the characters are drawn so realistically you can hand this to any number of girls and know they will find themselves somewhere in its pages. It's about realizing that friendships are complicated - and growing up to the point of realizing that people are complicated.

I liked that there wasn't a cut and dried ending to the book, or an epiphany where Julia realizes Who Her True Friends Are. In fact, you could almost call the ending jarring; reading it as an adult, it's easy to get so deeply into Julia's character you find yourself thinking and feeling along with her and expecting that perfect ending. It's a reminder that, as you grow up, you'll realize more and more that life is messy and people are messy. Some people are cruel. Some people are kind. Most people, like Julia, are somewhere in the middle.

I'm in love with the length of the book - just 200 pages - which will make this super easy to sell to my reluctant girl readers who often love realistic fiction, but don't want to dig into the lengthier volumes they usually come in. It would make a great summer read. I am not, to be totally honest, in love with the cover. I like it as an adult, but it's going to be difficult to sell to the readers I have in mind who would most appreciate this book - it looks too young. I know photograph covers are a bit cliched, but they're what really sell books to this age group because they look more grown-up.

Verdict: There is so much in this slim little book. It never falls into stereotypes, presents nuanced characters, and perfectly captures the minds and hearts of its protagonists - and I think it will capture readers as well. I've cut my order lists to the absolute bone because of my big Neighborhoods project, but this title is going to be on my next order list no matter what!

ISBN: 9780762449484; Published May 2014 by Running Press; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

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