Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Popularity Papers: The Long-Distance Dispatch Between Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang

By Amy Ignatow
208 p.
Amulet Books
Publication date: March 1, 2011

Genre: Chick Lit; Humor

Summary: Just before they begin junior high, best friends Lydia and Julie are separated when Lydia's family moves to London for six months. Separated for the first time ever, the girls must face the challenges of new schools alone. Using numerous full-color illustrations, Lydia and Julie's shared journal entries, emails, and IMs tell their story.

The Good: Upper-elementary girls will LOVE the colorful, whimsical drawings and the easy-to-read text. The story has positive messages about friendship, fitting in, cliques, bullying, doing what's right, and being oneself. While it was not really my taste, I have no doubt that young girls will gobble it up.

The Bad: This quick-read has an excruciatingly slow plot. For about first two-thirds of the book, there is really no conflict outside the girls' temporary separation, which they resolve easily through instant messages, email, the journal, and a Christmas break visit. In the last third, some tension finally builds but is easily resolved. 

The bigger issue for me is the huge array of minor characters. Having not read the first book, I had difficulty keeping track of who's who. Some characters (Roland, Chuck, Gretchen, Sukie, Birgit, Jane) receive no introduction at all, leaving the reader trying to fill in blanks. It's easy to see that these characters are just friends from school, but readers new to the series know virtually nothing about them. This is distracting when, toward the end, Julie makes a huge deal about two very minor characters kissing in the hall at school. Being unfamiliar with the characters,  I did not realize why the kissing was a big deal until almost the very end. Also, I did not at first realize that Julie lives with two dads. At first, I thought one was a stepdad married to her mom. Eventually, I realized the two (presumably gay) dads adopted Julie.

Front cover: colorful; appropriate and attractive to target audience

Language: none
Sexuality: one very mild kiss
Violence: none
Drugs/Alcohol: one character tries a cigarette and gets sick

Overall Rating: Highly recommended for upper-elementary girls. Additional selection for middle school libraries. I think it's a little young for most middle school girls; my kindergartener read several pages aloud (and enjoyed them!) with very little help.

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