Chip (aka Brenda Anderson) isn’t sure how she can possibly stand living with her mean old grandmother in Mount Airy, North Carolina, especially since her daddy, the one who really understood her tomboy ways, has just died. But mom says they can’t afford the house anymore, and she and the three girls have to move in with Grandma.
Just when Chip is hoping for some magic to help her understand her grandma and fit in with her family, she discovers a charm school hidden back in the woods. Miss Vernie, the teacher and proprietor, has two other students, Dana and Karen, and Miss Vernie tells them that they are there to learn whatever it is that they need to learn. She gives each of the girls a charm bracelet and says, “You have to wear the bracelet at all times. That’s how you know when you’ve completed a lesson–when you lose a charm. School ends when you’ve lost all your charms.”
Chip’s older and younger sisters are both excited about entering the Miss Dogwood pageant. But Chip just doesn’t fit in with her beauty pageant-loving family. This theme of “not fitting in” is hammered over and over again throughout the book until I wanted to shake some of the adults, especial Chip’s mom and grandma, into paying attention and affirming Chip for who she was. Chip’s mom is distracted by her grief over the loss of her husband, and Grandma is just spiteful. The combination makes for a long, cruel, dry summer, both weather-wise and emotionally for Chip, who’s trying so hard to fit into her family and get some attention. Chip is finally rewarded for her persistence, but it takes a while.
I did like the idea that the story takes place in Mount Airy, the prototype for Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith Show TV series. But we don’t get to see much of Mount Airy. And the “southernness” of the setting is more stereotypical than enlightening. The story takes place in 1977, and several events tie the plot to that time period. But the 1977 incidents are minor, also not very deeply evocative of the time.
Still, School of Charm is a nice little story with a “hint of magic”, even if the magic is mostly in the eye of the beholder.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.