One of my urchins wouldn’t finish this book because she disliked the main character so much. Here’s the scenario: Queen Marie Rosseau thinks she is a queen, with a real castle and a knight in shining armor, the whole bit. She thinks this because her daddy tells her she is a queen, and although her mother tries to bring her back to reality, Queen is not much interested in anything except her own queenliness.
“I used to be homeschooled until two years ago. But I go to regular school now. Mother thought I needed to be around other kids. She said she didn’t like how grown-up and stuck-up I was acting. Only I can’t help it if I’m cute and smarter than most kids my age.”
This paragraph is the only time homeschooling is mentioned in the book, but we all get the message, don’t we? Queen’s daddy’s indulgence and her sheltered homeschool experience have made her into a snot. And Queen is socially challenged, to say the least. She doesn’t know how to make friends, doesn’t keep the one friend she has, and generally alienates everyone around her. Her teacher doesn’t like her, really doesn’t like her, and Leroy, the broken bike boy, comes to her house for the food Queen’s mother makes and for the attention Queen’s father gives him, but he’d just as soon Queen would get lost. The feeling is mutual, and Queen tries to get rid of Leroy several times, then tries to prove he’s a liar, then tries to steal Leroy’s only friend.
I don’t know about this one. There are some kids who are hopelessly stuck on themselves, unable or unwilling to think about the feelings of others. But Queen seemed to be awfully intelligent to be so dim when it came to people-skills. She didn’t come across as autistic or socially handicapped so much as just selfish and unwilling to admit that other people don’t like being treated as slaves to the Queen.
Then, there’s the part of the book where Queen goes to visit a reclusive old man in his apartment without permission from her parents, without their even knowing about it. I just don’t think that’s a great idea to put into kids’ heads, even though it turns out just fine in the book. The old man, Cornelius, is a mentor who helps Queen to see the error of her ways.
In fact, The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street is full of mentors and involved and loving adults. Queen’s parents are quite attentive, and Queen’s mother tries to coach Queen in the fine art of winning friends. Queen’s dad helps Leroy fix his bike and invites him to eat dinner with Queen’s family. Cornelius, although somewhat eccentric, teaches both children about their African heritage and gives them the attention they both crave, along with a bit of a reality check for Miss Queen when her behavior becomes insufferable.
I give it a B-.
Again others liked it better than I did. Maybe they didn’t have my knee-jerk reaction to homeschool stereotypes:
Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production: “I had difficulty recognizing when I was supposed to be annoyed by my protagonist. Kudos to Ms. Flake then. It takes guts to make an unlikable hero. Guts and talent.”