Two Magical Sixth Grade Reads with Dating Issues

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel.
Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper.

These books were similar in many ways. Our female protagonist in each book is a bit of a misfit, even an outcast, with a poor self-image and an innate limitation that exacerbates that problem. In the book Fortune Falls, Sadie is an Unlucky who lives in a town, Fortune Falls, where superstitions such as breaking your mother’s back when you step on a crack, are true laws of nature. In Sticks and Stones, Elyse suffers with CAV, a condition that causes the words that people use to describe her, good and bad, to appear in bold print on her arms and legs. The bad words, like “loser” or “klutz” or worse, itch ferociously; the good words, like “adorable” or “cool” or “sweet”, feel warm and comforting.

So Sadie is looking for a way to transcend her bad luck or even change it into good luck, while Elyse is just trying to survive or avoid the bad words people throw at her and glean lots more compliments and good words. Both of these problems speak to fears that middle schoolers (and many adults) often have: What if I’m just a born loser? What if I never do get into the “cool kids crowd”? Do I really want to be cool? On the other hand, do I want to see myself, and have others see me, as a pathetic outcast for the rest of my life? It’s the basic “Who am I really?” question. (By the way, there’s a black cat that figures prominently in Fortune Falls, but said cat has a bobbed tail. Cover error!)

Sadie answers the questions both by finding a little luck along the way and by accepting her luckless self as she is. These two solutions conflict somewhat and really beg the question. Sadie says she’s OK because she managed to work within the rigged system and grab some luck or because she believes she’s OK, and that’s enough. Elyse answers the “who am I really?” question by accepting her words, both good and bad, and by deciding not to apply bad words to herself. I’m not sure the resolution in either story is adequate. Bad words can hurt, even if you’re determined to not internalize them. And bad luck, in a town like Fortune Falls where luck is a real thing, could really damage or even kill.

Both Sadie and Elyse have friend issues, issues with “mean girls”, and boyfriend issues—all in the sixth grade. Sticks and Stones, in particular, has a heavy, heavy emphasis on sixth graders dating, even though it’s pretty tame dating, holding hands, kissing, breaking up, going steady, not at all what I would like to see sixth graders worrying about. Stereotypical “mean girls” are in both books. In Sticks and Stones, Elyse’s best friend joins the mean girls clique for no discernible reason. Both books have lots of name-calling. A sort of/kind of therapeutically good ending doesn’t make up for all the angst (at 12!) in the middle. I think sixth grade is way too young for the boyfriend/dating thing to figure so prominently in the stories, but it’s more and more of a theme in middle grade fiction. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but eleven and twelve year olds are too young to have boyfriends and dates and jealousy over boys and breaking up and going steady. If it’s happening anyway in sixth grade, we need to discourage, not encourage, it.

Aside from the boyfriend/girlfriend nonsense, these are readable and serviceable, not for my library, but you may get better mileage than I did.

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