A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

I know all about girls who are boy-crazy. Some of my friends in junior high seemed to change overnight into make-up slathering, giggling, boy-watching, clothes horse, obsessives. However, Alex Shrader is a change from the old female heartsick for boys protagonist. He’s a seventh grade boy who’s recently become absolutely fixated on girls, and within the first few paragraphs of the story Alex becomes fixated on one girl in particular, the new girl at St. Catherine’s School, Bijou, who’s newly arrived from Haiti.

Bijou on the other hand, is NOT interested in having Alex or anyone else for a boyfriend. She has just come to New York City to live with her very strict Uncle Pierre and Aunt Marie Claire, and she couldn’t meet with a boy, even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t. Haitian tradition doesn’t allow young girls to spend time with anyone outside the family, not even girlfriends, much less boys, so budding romance just isn’t a possibility.

But of course, this is a romance novel, so love triumphs over all obstacles: Alex’s awkward shyness and inexperience, Bijou’s lack of interest in romance, Bijou’s strict family rules, Alex’s immature friends and enemies, the fact that the two middle school students go to different schools, etc. Lots of obstacles. Nevertheless, I was rooting for Alex because he is such a gentleman.

And I’m rooting for this middle grade novel, even though it has a few barriers to success, too. The cover picture is adorable, but I’m a girl. Are guys, even girl-crazy guys going to carry around a book with an “adorable” cover like this one? OK, so say the male readership buys their copies on an ereader. There are still a few awkward scenes and bits of dialog. For example, Bijou asks herself, about one of the girls who has been making fun of her, but is now almost in tears after a war of words: “Is she so filled with hate, she can’t enjoy her victory for even a moment?” What does that mean? Wouldn’t some one who is filled with hate enjoy her victory (in an argument) all the more?

There are few other false notes in this otherwise lovely song for Bijou, but I just skipped over those. Alex is so goofy and sweet, and Bijou is so reserved and mysterious. It really is a good match, and who can resist young love between two awkward adolescents in New York City? Well, probably lots of people can resist, but I was hooked. The fact that Bijou is from Haiti and that Haitian culture is featured prominently in the story helped the appeal. I like learning about other cultures alongside my book characters.

So if you’re interested in rara music, drumming, Haiti, first love, middle school drama, Haitians, Dominicans, and Jamaicans in the U.S., or none of the above, you might enjoy A Song for Bijou. This middle grade novel has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Middle Grade Fiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.

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