Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That Awkward Summer

Published: April 22nd, 2014
The Battle of Darcy Lane
By: Tara Altebrando
Running Press Kids
ISBN-13:  9780762449484

It is summertime, and twelve-year-old Julia Richards cannot stand the anticipation.  Everyone on Darcy Lane seems to be holding their breath waiting for the cicadas to emerge, but what Julia and her best friend, Taylor, want is some real excitement.  Which arrives in the form of a new neighbor named Alyssa, who introduces a ball game named Russia...and an unwelcome level of BFF rivalry.

Suddenly nothing stands unchallenged - not Julia's friendships, her crush, or her independence.  But while Julia realizes that she cannot control all the changes in her life, she hangs onto the hope that everything will go in her favor if she can just win one magnificent showdown.


     I have really enjoyed reading Tara Altebrando's past young adult books, and was unsure how I would feel about her new middle grade effort.  But I was really excited to be contacted by the publisher about reviewing it, and decided to give it a shot.  This book definitely took me back to being twelve years old, when you're in between a teenager and kid, and the hardest thing to know is exactly where you fit in.  Julia has an especially hard time of things, when her best friend Taylor starts to drift away after the new girl Alyssa moves into the neighborhood.  Alyssa is everything that Julia isn't - pretty, confident, sophisticated.  Another thing she happens to be is mean, and she is slowly stealing away Julia's best friend.   But is it worth it to try and keep friends who treat you like dirt?  What exactly makes a friend?  And how far should you go to prove yourself to other people?
     I definitely sympathized with Julia, having spent a good chunk of my childhood being in a sometimes mean-girl level of friendship, stuck between two other girls.  The difference though, was that in my experience it was a school friendship, with some outer level contact.  It wasn't being stuck in the same neighborhood 24/7, with no escape from the backstabbing, silent treatment and just plain cruel tactics of the other girls.  I get the awkwardness of feeling left out, like you're not as good as someone else and questioning whether it's somehow your fault or not.  Julia was definitely a realistic main character.  And the moments she has with Alyssa AND Taylor, that tell the reader that they aren't downright evil, just confused and complex young girls, are wonderful too.  Nobody is really villainous, just human and flawed.  
     Nothing really big, or epic in the grand scheme of things happens plot-wise.  It's mainly like Altebrando states in the author notes, a quiet book.  The kind of book you used to read as a kid all the time, like something Judy Blume would write.  It's about the everyday realities of growing up, and the realizations we all have to face while doing it.  Probably the biggest theme of this book is realizing who your real friends are.  There is a truly sweet side-friendship with Peter, the boy next door, who Julia sneak a forbidden TV show with and has an innocent crush on.  There are a couple tense moments and misunderstandings, and I love when Peter confronts Julia, telling her he thought they had a couple years before she let the boy-crazy, mean-girl drama suck her in.  Julia also has some potential best friends, some who she loves (cool Laney from band camp) and Wendy (her elementary school friend she's passive-aggressively under appreciating and trying to dump).  
     The adults in this book, or at least Julia's parents, are truly the best portrayl I've seen in just about forever in a book so close to YA classification!  They aren't absent, but aren't overbearing.  You can tell they love Julia, and they're trying to do their best.  The book also shows Julia realizing that she needs to remember that her Mom has feelings, dreams, and problems  too - something you don't start to realize or appreciate until you're passing out of childhood.  I did feel like the moment near the end when they get over-invested in Julia's Russia showdown with Alyssa was kind of out of place.  But at the same time it made sense, with her Mom's efforts above and beyond to understand Julia.  The whole ball game, Russia, of which I had never heard was interesting and the idea of a showdown brought back memories.  Overall, I truly enjoyed this book.  Its the kind of book there need to be more of in today's market - a book that is a realistic experience of the transition from childhood to the teenaged years.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a book that doesn't feel the need to be hip to be good.  Anyone who longs for simpler days, this is for you!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received a print ARC of this book from a representative at Running Kids Press.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on  April 22nd, 2014.*

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