Children’s Fiction of 2008: The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff

Melissa at Book Nut says this book, while good, made her anxious. It is a little scary, not in a roller coaster sort of way or a thriller sort of way, but rather in the what-will-the-author-do-with-this-plot-set-up-and-how-will-it-all-end way. And will my peeps, the characters I’ve grown to love over the course of the book, be OK?

Bernetta Wallflower (named after her deceased Uncle Bernie) is the daughter of a magician, a stage magician, that is, not a fantasy one. She’s also the victim of a frame-up: her best friend Ashley has framed her for a crime she didn’t commit and caused her to be grounded for life (or maybe just for the summer) and to lose her scholarship to Mt. Olive School, the only place she’s ever been to school. A year’s tuition at Mt. Olive is about $9000, and Bernetta wants to get that tuition money somehow even though she’s only twelve years old, can’t get a job, and (see above) grounded for the summer.

Enter Gabe, a movie-loving, chocolate-eyed, persistently friendly, bundle of ideas who helps Bernetta come up with a plan for obtaining the money. Unfortunately, the plan isn’t exactly honest or lawful, a fact which could be discerned by mature readers from the title and plot of one of Gabe’s favorite movies, The Sting. (I like The Sting, too, but I’m not tempted to emulate the characters. Honest.) However, if everyone thinks Bernetta is dishonest anyway, why shouldn’t she become what they think she is? The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower is the story of how one girl transforms herself into a different person, like magic, over the course of a summer —and how she ends up up not much liking the person she’s become.

I’ll have to agree with Melissa that the book had me worried, or maybe anxious. Bernetta, a likeable person, keeps getting into deeper and deeper trouble, and I wondered how the author was going to pull her out. And I wondered if Gabe was really Bernetta’s friend, or if he had ulterior motives for his help and advice. And I wondered whether Bernetta was ever going to tell the truth —and what would happen when she did. The ending is satisfactory in all respects, and Bernetta does survive. It’s a cautionary tale. but the medicine goes down easily, wrapped in a story that is suspenseful and fun and somewhat nerve-racking, in a good way.

I’m recommending this one for eleven or twelve year olds on up, both those who lack discernment and those who have the honesty thing down. The book would be good for parents or teachers to read along with the children and then have a good discussion about honesty and peer pressure and responding to false accusations and distinguishing pretend from dishonest and choosing friends.

Bernetta’s other fans and detractors (Ok, just fans):

Melissa at Book Nut: “In spite of my anxiousness, I really liked this book. It was very funny — never talking down, always smart — and the while the plot is way over-the-top (I mean really, is this even plausible? Really?), I was happy to go along for the ride. Bernetta is a charming character.”

MotherReader: “The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower would be great for a book club because there is so much left open for discussion in the character and the plot.”

Miss Erin: “Oh boy was this book fun! The writing is tight and the fast-paced plotting forces you to keep turning the pages. It’s chock-full of humor; I was laughing about every other page.”

3 thoughts on “Children’s Fiction of 2008: The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff

  1. Ohhh… what a different reaction from mine! I didn’t respond to the book at all – it seemed very contrived. I thought the plot would have been more interesting if it hadn’t been trying so hard to “confuse” the reader with plot twists and yet I knew (without reading the end of the book!) that everything would be ok at the end. It just felt like that type of book, one where ultimately, Good would win. Yes, it might make for some interesting parent/child discussions, but there are less improbable ways to cover this topic.

  2. Nice review. I liked Lisa Graff’s The Thing About Georgie, and this one is in my to-be-read pile.

  3. I’m glad it made you anxious; I wondered, while reading it, if it was just me. 🙂 And I agree that it would be a good springboard for an honesty discussion…

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