Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stop the World! Finally by Wendy Mass

1. Get a cellphone.
2. Stay home alone.
3. Get a screen name so I can IM.
4. Shave my legs.
5. Go to the mall with Annabelle and no parents.
6. Wear makeup.
7. Get a pet.
8. Babysit.
9. Get my ears pierced.
10. Get contact lenses.
11. Go to boy-girl birthday parties.
12. Go to bed at 9:30.
13. Drink coffee.
14. Meet Jake Harrison.

Rory Swenson feels that her overprotective parents' limits have made her an oddity among her friends. Everyone else is wearing lip gloss, shaving their legs, and texting like crazy. But her parents promise that when she's twelve she will be allowed to do everything on her When-I'm Twelve list and more--things like having her own house key, buying her own clothes, doing homework without supervision, and riding in the front seat.

When the great day comes Rory plunges joyfully into her new-found privileges. Never mind that her parents give her a choice of only three stodgy cellphones and then make her pay for the insurance; at last she can be in the IM inner circle at school. It's just a minor bump in the road when she loses her new phone before she gets out of the mall and then drops the replacement in the toilet. Rory gets the pet of her dreams, a rabbit named Kyle R., at the pet shop and, and looking forward to daily snuggles in her room, agrees to pay for his supplies, only to discover that he insists on nearly smothering her nightly by sleeping on her face.

Undeterred, Rory resolutely continues to work through her list. Things have got to go better, she hopes, because Jake Harrison, the 14-year-old celebrity actor is actually filming a movie at her actual school, and Rory and Annabelle are chosen to be extras. Rory hurries back to the mall for makeup and ear piercing to make herself look good in hopes of catching the gorgeous Jake's eye.

But, as the old saying goes, "when you get what you want, you don't want it." Rory soon learns that she's allergic to "all-natural" makeup and gold earrings, and finds herself having to go to school with her face swollen like a balloon and one ear the size of an baby elephant's. Trying to remove her new contacts leaves her with a scratched cornea, and just as her face and ear are returning to normal, she has to show up in class wearing an eye patch, subjecting herself to endless and annoying "Avasts!" and "Yarrrs!" In the final affront to her person, shaving and waxing her legs leaves her bleeding, blistered, and patchy with bandaids.

She's a sight for sore eyes, all right, but the sore eyes are her own. Her repeated disfigurements do attract Jake Harrison's attention, but only because he's totally cracked up at her seemingly endless series of daily disasters.

But Rory Swenson has her own maturity, a kind of empathy which helps her really see into other's feelings, and a good head on her shoulders. Her quiet thoughtfulness stands her in good stead through her many mishaps, and things begin to go her way. A creative film director works her bleeding shins and red, bleary eye into the movie's script so that Rory finally gets her chance to meet Jake Harrison. And when her heart tells her she's just not ready for kissing games at Natalie's birthday party, she realizes that for her growing up doesn't have to happen at once.

Without taking her eyes off the road, Mom whispers, almost to herself, "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

Even though I'm pretty sure I heard her, I ask, "What did you say?"

"I didn't say anything. Gandhi did."

"Gandhi? The guy from India? First, Dad quotes the Bible, and now you're quoting Gandhi."

She shrugs and grins. "We're branching out."

I settle back in my seat, feeling like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I don't plan to wish for anything for a while. I don't plan to chart out the future, at least not right away. Things are pretty good right now, right where I am.

Returning to the comfortable setting of Willow Falls, the scene of her 11 Birthdays, Wendy Mass spins another humorous and satisfying story of Rory Swenson in her latest middle school saga, Finally. (Scholastic, 2010). This one is a solid entry for middle readers making that bumpy passage from childhood into what lies beyond, and Rory Swenson is a good friend to make along the way.

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