Showing posts with label school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label school. Show all posts

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Affliction by Beth Gutcheon


Rating: WARTY!

This audiobooks started out well enough, but it moved so slowly that I was truly tired of it by the time I was about forty percent the way through it. I gave up on it shortly after that. The narration by Hillary Huber wasn't bad, it was just a poor story.

It's apparently part of a series, but once again the publisher has failed to identify this on the cover. What are they afraid of? All it said was that it was by the author of Death at Breakfast a singularly uninspiring title which it turns out is the first in the series. This is the second, but it can be read as a standalone if you don't mind occasional references to a prior history between the two main protagonists, Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin.

Maggie is a retired school principal. How that qualifies her to solve murders is more of a mystery than the murder mystery itself is. Hope Babbin is a bon viveur as far as I can tell - wealthy and no clue what to do with herself. She's happy, in this story, to abandon her book club, which begs the question as to why she's in it in the first place. Maybe it's lazy author shorthand for her being smart? It doesn't work. It never does.

Maggie is supposed to be part of an assessment group that's inspecting a private and formerly elite, but now down-at-heel, girls school which is under threat of closure. None of this has anything to do with the murder, but it gets Maggie in the door. When one of the teachers is found in the swimming pool - on the bottom as opposed to swimming - Maggie is asked to stay on to help guide the relatively new and young current school principal through the crisis, but Maggie spends absolutely zero time advising the principal on anything, and instead immediately launches herself and her friend Hope whom she recruits for this purpose, into a serious investigation of the crime.

Never once does it cross her mind that she might screw things up for the police. Never once do the police advise her to keep out of the investigation. Never once do any of the people she interviews tell her to get lost and quit meddling, or that it's none of her business. Never once do they refuse to answer any of her questions - at least not in the part I listened to. Never once do these two share anything they have learned with the police, and never once do the police start suspecting them of being involved or covering-up anything. It's just too frigging perfect!

The whole thing was so inauthentic that it really made for an increasing lack of suspension of disbelief the more I listened to this. The feeling that grew on me was that here were two interfering busybodies who evidently had nothing better to do with their time than to get into other people's business with no concerns whatsoever for what they might mess-up. That's not my kind of story and this one wasn't even written well, so I can't commend it for anything other than wasting my time quite effectively.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I started out really liking this book, but it developed two major strikes against it. The first was that the ending really went downhill into complete unbelievability for me, so the last twenty percent or so was an unpleasant read. That wasn't the worst part though. The worst was that the main Character Penelope McGee, never ever seemed to learn!

I don't mind reading about a dumb female character if she turns herself around, or if she has some other qualities that come to light, but "Pipi" never changed. As the story went on, she proved herself to be actually worse than anyone she had a vendetta against, and on top of that she proved weak, unassertive, and just completely lackluster, willing to betray friends, family, anyone, to get what she wanted. She was not a nice person and had little thought for the consequences of the poor choices and decisions she persisted in making.

The basis story is that in her last year of middle school, she unilaterally decides she can wipe her slate clean and start high school with a fresh outlook. She determines, against the better advice of her friends to whom she pays little heed, that the only way to do this is to seek vengeance on everyone who wronged her, and try to wipe out her humiliations. She talks like this will be redemption, but she really doesn't act like any of it is. It felt like a real shame to me because some parts of the story were really good, and there was this one nose-piercing scene which mede me laugh out loud, but such meager leavening in a book that is otherwise sinking does far too little to improve matters.

On top of this, her story is presented against the backdrop of what has to be the worst middle school in the entire country. There is no discipline there, the teachers are all either bullies or idiots, and there is absolutely zero parental involvement whatsoever. It's not surprising then that there was open and unchecked bullying going on in this school, which the teachers never did a thing about.

One of the teachers openly bullied the girls, yet there never were any repercussions, for example with parents making complaints about her. The principal of the school was female and all this was going on under her watch, so what message does this send about female competency? It was a disgrace. It was so unrealistic as to be more of a caricature than anything that felt real.

Pipi herself was also a caricature in practice, because everything presented in this story was either stark black or it was glaring white. there was no subtlety here; no shades of gray. On top of that, Pipi had to be one of the most self-centered and ignorant characters I've ever encountered. It was pretty obvious that one of the main characters was gay and Pipi never figured this out at all. She was so self-focussed and self-obsessed that it never occurred to her that other people might be real people with feelings and secrets and problems and worries.

On a technical level, this book was not helped by submitting it to Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. Personally I refuse to have any truck at all with Amazon for a variety of reasons, but one repeated problem I see with review books that come to me in Kindle format is that they have evidently been submitted to Amazon with far too many expectations for the end result, and the ebook comes back looking like a mess. If the publisher or author doesn't vet the resulting ebook for quality, the review ebook gets sent out to reviewers looking like a disaster.

I see this a lot with a variety of books. In this particular instance, there were page headers and page numbers blended into the body of the text. There was random bolding of text here and there, and all of the images at the start of the book were sliced, diced, and julienned. Kindle does this routinely. You cannot submit a book to Kindle for conversion unless it is the plainest of vanilla - nothing fancy, no images, no text boxes, no page headings or numberings, no tables, charts, or anything remotely fancy. Essentially it must be just plain vanilla text, otherwise Amazon will completely mangle it for you.

Here's an example. At one point I read the following:
Ricky glanced around, nodding at me, then sat (this part was bold. The text line ended here)
next to Tasha. (this was on the next line and was regular text)
Tasha even wore makeup today—something she rarely did—her lipstick and eyeliner a bright turquoise blue. When I asked her about it, she (this was the next couple of lines, all bolded)
said Eliza showed her how to do it. (this, the next line, was back to regular text).

On another page (evidently page 107!) I read this:
It’s just how I pictured Freya.” 1 07 Tasha grinned.
There were also random examples of a bold lower case letter 'f' appearing in the middle of the text like so:
"The dots disappeared.
f
I called Sarah over and over,"
I have no idea what that was all about.

So technical issues aside, I cannot commend this as a worthy read when it has such a limp and misguided main character who never seems to learn her lesson and yet for whom everything magically works out in the end? No. Sorry but no! That's way too much fiction for my taste!


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Schools on Trial by Nikhil Goyal


Rating: WARTY!

Nikhil Goyal WAS a 17-year-old senior at Syosset High School when he first began haranguing the world about poor schooling, but after reading his book on school reformation, I was left with the feeling that his education was lacking - at least in terms of making intelligent constructive arguments and supporting them with solid data. I found this book (of which I read an advance review copy) to be shallow and inutile, and I cannot recommend it.

The system is culpable. However, what happens in nearly every instance is that instead of castigating the perpetrator of this crime, we - society - chide the victims. We blame the students for "refusing to be educated." We blame the millions of dropouts. We blame the misfits who weren't able to or refused to conform to the standards of conventional schooling. We blame the kids who goof off during class, the kids who don't shut up and sit down, the kids who don't pay attention, the kids who don't study enough, the kids who don't perform well on tests, the kids who don't finish their homework, and the kids who cut class or school altogether.
Like many of his assertions, this author fails to back up his frequent wild claims evidence or references. Maybe it's all true, but I'm certainly not going to take the unsupported word of a stranger for this. Why should I believe it from a book any more than I would had some random traveler pinned my ear back with these claims on the subway? And I don't believe it is true. Yes, some children are blamed, as are some teachers and some schools, and even some cities or states, but to put this out there, as though everyone blames the children and only the children and no one is trying to do anything about it, is misleading at best, and downright dishonest at worst.

School drop-out rate has been declining recently and graduation rates are at an historic high. A USA Today report indicates the drop-out rate is only half a million, not a million or more. That's obviously still unacceptable, but misrepresenting it isn't helping.

We're told that over a million students drop out of school each year! This would mean that means that our drop-out rate is around fifty percent, which isn't even remotely true when graduation rates, which have been increasing over the last few years, are in the 80% range. Even that rate is far too low, and lower than other nations, but it certainly doesn't support a claim of a million a year. We don't even get to hear what the reason for the drop out is, so while a portion of it is undoubtedly because the student isn't happy at - or simply doesn't like - the school, to pretend the whole one million, even if it were not an exaggeration, is for this sole reason is dishonest.

This book is one anecdote after another, and none of these anecdotes are supported with references, yet they are substituted for data in making claims for how bad students supposedly think schools are - and the anecdotes in the beginning of the book came from 1909. HOW IS THAT EVEN REMOTELY RELEVANT?! We're told of a 2003 study which essentially tested whether kids were happier playing or going to school - well duhh! Why wasn't the result a surprise? If you conducted the same study on adults who are working, the result would undoubtedly be the same. Does this mean that all work environments are terrorist institutions at heart and we should reform them en masse? We're told, in another bold claim, that "Much of the hell children go through in school would not be tolerated by any adult," yet we have twenty million college students in the US. Hm! It seems "the hell" - whatever the undefined "hell" is - is widely tolerated by adults.

In an interview, the author has said, "One common irritant was all the testing." He also says that students should "not be broken up by age group. Instead, students should be grouped by ability." - but how do you gauge the ability without some form of testing? Crickets chirp. Claim after claim about what he thinks we should do, but not a single suggestion as to exactly what we should do or how we should do it and finance it. The author asserts, "We need to have school resemble the real world as much as possible." Why? No word. How would that work? No word. What improvement would it bring? No word. How do you gauge where a student is without some sort of measurement or testing? No word. And if this is what he wants, why advocate getting rid of advanced placement programs?

In an article, we read of him comparing public school curriculum with that of a school in San Franciso called "Brightworks", but what he doesn't say is that this school is not a public school - it does not have to accept all-comers. There is an admissions process and an admission fee. They can afford to select the brightest students with the best social skills and aptitude - the ones who will fit and work in their system. You cannot make a comparison between a very selective school like this and a regular public school! It's nonsensical and meaningless The author sadly and blindly seems to have narrowly-focused his views on his own personal school experience and derived all of his "ideas" - which are not novel - from that. He appears to have done a very limited survey of educators, but not of schools, so he doesn't appear to know about what schools are doing outside of his own tunnel vision.

Like too many Americans, the author harks back to a golden time of colonialism, when he appears to be claiming, without a shred of evidence to support the claim, that the colonials were very well-educated without any formalized schooling system. He conveniently forgets that the colonists were not your everyday people, but were actually "gentlemen" fortune hunters come to exploit the colonies for whatever they could get out of it. Even later in the time of Benjamin Franklin and Alexis de Tocqueville, the population was very largely rural and did not have to handle anything like we do today. The farms of today would be essentially unintelligible to the gentlemen of Franklin's era. But it serves the author's thesis well to compare the education "system" from those 'golden days' with the one today, whilst failing to compare the complexity of life and the employment skills needed today, because to do an honest comparison would fail him miserably. It serves him well to recall simpler times and say it will all work out in the end, without having to show how such a loose - and better-financed (these were wealthy men he's quoting and referencing) education system "beats" ours.

He asserts at one point that "school environments discourage the fostering of deep relationships and a larger sense of belonging" - so schools don't have sports teams, or clubs, or school 'houses'? No schools have uniforms? What school did he go to again? He says, " Out of the thirteen years most of us spend in school, we can usually only recount a handful of teachers we were genuinely attached." I can't recall one. How is this relevant again? And to what is it relevant? Is that crickets I hear again?

The author brings in a character named Sam, and goes on and on about him. It's a personal story and a good emotional trigger, but it's an anecdote, not data. There's no reason to believe that what Sam went through is "so common", or the norm, or representative. At one point we read:

Then finally, after two years of round-the-clock bullying [round the clock bullying at school? Was Sam in a boarding school?!], Sam's time in school improved slightly in the eighth grade. He grew taller. He gained some respect, made a few friends, received support from teachers, and didn't get ridiculed nearly as much as before.
And all of this was without a radical reform to the school system! How on Earth is this even possible?! The author conveniently doesn't go into any details about what changed and how it changed, so that others can learn from this experience and build on it, because none of that would support his thesis that only a radical makeover will work. On the contrary, this actually argues instead that the present system can work if it's handled properly.

Sam's idea for reforming the system is to let him sleep in:

That's another quibble Sam has about school: the sleep schedule it forces him to conform to. "School starts around 8 a.m.," he said. "I have to wake up at 7 a.m. It's actually really tough. You feel unmotivated, sleepy. Your eyes are weary. It feels terrible." In another conversation, he told me, "My natural sleep [bedtime] schedule is around 12 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Get thee to bed early, Sam! Duhh! You can't be up watching TV, or playing video games, or reading comic books, or whatever, until midnight and then expect to be awake the next morning. I have no idea what he means by his natural cycle being 12pm (that's twelve noon) to an hour after midnight! That would mean he's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed well before school starts. He should be at his peak at 7am if he wakes up at one! Did he mean 12am to 1pm? He wants to go to school in the afternoon and evening?! That's called night class.

He says, "In order to be popular, you need some combination of good looks, athletic ability, and brand-name apparel. Students who don't measure up or conform are inevitably ostracized." Welcome to the real world - the one you want schools to be more like! LOL! But once again. his unsupported claim is flawed. It's based on the assumption that bullying is violent, cruel, rife, and all-pervasive, yet he hasn't even attempted to make that argument! As with his entire thesis, he's started from assumptions and built his assertions on those without actually checking to even see if they're true, let alone if they're important. He asks, for example, "Why is bullying so common in traditional schools?" This a classic question along the well-worn lines of "Have you stopped beating you wife?" It's a question which carries on its back the assumption that bullying is very common in public schools, and the author takes this assertion and runs with it, without even once attempting to establish that what he claims is actually true. There's a huge difference between bullying existing in schools at some level, and it being "so common".

He then goes on, "Up to roughly 94 percent of a school's population consists of students, with the rest teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and staff. So what you have is 6 percent of the population making decisions on behalf of the 94 percent without their consent. If that's not considered antidemocratic, I'm not sure what would be." This is a quote in a section about how bullying begins. All he's done here is make it look like that 6% are the bullies! Is he was trying to argue that all school bullying is done by teachers? I'd agree if he was talking about my school, but I'm smarter than to let myself be deluded that my experience can be extrapolated to the entire nation and what would maybe have worked there will apply to everyone else. If he's not arguing that teachers are the bullies, then how is his out-of-left-field statistic even remotely relevant to one kid bullying another kid?

His "solution" to school bullying? We must teach children to be kinder to one another! I can't believe no one ever thought of that before. Thank god for this author! All these years the evil system has been fomenting bullying by evidently teaching kids to be meaner to one another when the answer was right in front of us from the start! How could we all have been so incorrigibly blind?! Well, I guess it's not just we readers! Illiteracy in the US in 1870 was 20%. Now it’s almost zero. Besides, literature and conversation was pretty much all they had for home entertainment – so what choice did they have? Assuming the could afford the candles or oil to read when it grew dark, and they were all done with their endless chores.

At one point the author lauds Summerhill school, an experimental school founded in England in 1921, that still exists. He praises this school, but when I looked in Wikipedia to see what outstanding students this school had turned out, all it listed were: John Burningham, a children's author, Keith Critchlow, an artist, Rebecca De Mornay, an actor, Storm Thorgerson, a rock album cover designer, Gus Dudgeon, a record producer and Mikey Cuddihy, an artist. Now one of these was also a professor or architecture, but this is all that Summerhill can deliver? No outstanding scientists, no such engineers, no such doctors, no great leaders of society?

So how is this of value? If the author had been able to show school after school, that does not restrict admissions, that teaches as he advocates, and that turns out outstanding members of society - people who create, and lead, and invent, and strike out in new directions, then I would believe he has a point to make, but he has failed comprehensively to do this. Despite the lousy (according to his lights) school system, the USA has one of the best educational systems in the world that turns out outstanding people in all fields. So once again, I ask, what is it, exactly, that's so bad about this system and how will this author's assertions improve upon that? And no, I'm not asking for breathless, adolescent, idealistic castles in the sir, but real world examples of what this would bring to the table. The author is completely empty-handed on this measure, it would appear.

Nowhere in this book did I read about any role for parents in their children's education (although admittedly, I skipped much). Why not? Why are parents irrelevant in this "struggle"? This author's problem, I believe, is that he's lacking a sufficiently wide education to know what he's talking about. As with any teenager, he's all idealism and devoid of practicality. He's using anecdote for data and he's trying to parlay idealistic examples into general conclusions. Worse, he's confusing school with college. School is where children get their basic education,. College (university, however you want to describe it) is where they make the very choices he's advocating - choices about which career to follow and which educational path to choose. That's not to say that there should be no such choices or guidance in lower schools, but there's a certain realism which this author seems either loathe to face or of which, at his youthful and inexperienced age, he's either ignorant or foolishly dismissive.

Without that preliminary basic education, children are not equipped to make intelligent informed choices because they do not have the tools to do so. He wants to put education into the hands of the very people who do not have the education and experience to be able to make properly informed choices which will best determine what they need. Suppose, in this free choice, the kids want to spend all day playing video games? Is his system going to allow that? Suppose they don't want to learn to read and write? Suppose they want to hang out under the bleachers drinking and smoking? Is he going to allow all of this? How is letting kids have complete control going to end bullying? What's going to become of such ill-prepared students? Is society going to pay their way throughout their life - to take care of these kids who are completely unprepared for a real life and a career: for finding work and housing, for taking care of their future, their savings, their health, the life, liberty, and happiness? The author is silent on where any of this will lead. And he's woefully ignorant of the fact that play and education can successfully and vitally go hand-in-hand.

A lot of his referents are appallingly outdated. He's referencing and quoting people from a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, and so on. That's not to say that no one back then had a handle on education, or had anything useful to contribute, but it is to say that the world we live in now is very different from what it was even in the seventies, when no computers existed as far as the general public was concerned. Harking back to ideas from those times might inform as to which directions have worked and - something he fails to address - which haven't, but the mindless wholesale trashing and abandoning of progress that's been made in the last half century in favor of juvenile daydreaming about idyllic golden ages isn't a solution. It's escapism at best and vandalism at worst.

As Michael Douglas, playing President Shephard in The American President put it, "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them." Maybe this author can reform education, but he's not going to do it by writing frantic books. He's only going to do it by becoming an influential expert on the topic and rolling up his sleeves and getting it done. What Nikhil Goyal most needs to help him get there is - an education! Until then, his fifteen minutes are up.


Monday, September 21, 2015

I don't want to go to school by AJ Cosmo


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a bit late for the school season, but nonetheless a worthy read for the future for children newly going to school, or moving to start at a new school. The drawings are hilarious and the text is handwritten on lined paper. The young kid;s eyes are bugging out in fear of going to school. I can relate. The kid is a nervous nellie, concerned about the school bus (what if it hits a moose?!). What if they run out of chairs? What if the teacher's a monster? Well that's an inescapable hazard you'll have to live with, kid!

That's not what this books says, don't worry! Mom has a calming answer to every fear and eventually, she makes her case and wins the day! I recommend this one for any school start..


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation) by Sue Stauffacher

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Title: Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation)
Author: Sue Stauffacher
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This book was hilarious and I recommend it whole-heartedly. Yes, there was a more-than-minor character named Jack Taylor, which would normally cause me to jack this in, but he wasn't the main character so I was willing, in this one instance, to tolerate him in the small doses where he was present. I loved Cassidy's attitude to life, and her relationship with her sister.

The story here is that Cassidy's great grandmother has died and in her will she condemned (that's what it feels like to Cassidy) the poor girl to attend etiquette school two days a week during one month of her summer holiday. Cassidy bristles and rebels at this.

This story went from joy to joy. I completely adored the author's tone and voice - even though it was first person. Normally that's a voice I don't appreciate, but once in a while an author makes it work, and this is a sterling example of how to do it. The text is full of sly assessments, and astute and amusing remarks such as this observation from Cassidy: "I knew better than to say anything about the value of my time. Adults and kids have never seen eye to eye on that subject."

I don't know what it was, but Cassidy won me over from the off, and she kept on winning me over, although I have to admit, Livvy ran her a close thing. Cassidy was perhaps a bit more mature than you'd expect for her age, but I was willing to forgive her that in the same way I forgave Bill Watterson for the same thing in his totally awesome Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Cassidy is a smart, adventurous, curious, and self-possessed girl of eleven who is fearless and confident. She's not a bad person by any means, but her aggressive approach to life tends to land her in water that's decidedly, shall I say, too temperature-challenged for her taste? You can imagine then, the difficulties inherent in any attempt to teach her etiquette. It's precisely this ocean of endeavor upon which the author has chosen to launch Cassidy Corcoran.

Here's another joyous quotation: "Miss Melton-Mowry decided to ignore me. It's a normal developmental stage for every one of my teachers." And another from a conversation Cassidy has with another attendee of the etiquette class when they discover they have an acquaintance in common:

"What's the polite-conversation word for smart aleck?"
"High energy...original mind...future politician?" I replied, quoting my report cards from memory.

And one more for good measure:

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Bean."
"And you, Cassidy. Your reputation precedes you."
"That's usually how it works."

I'm not going to tell you how this goes, because it's a journey that you have to take for yourself - with Cassidy as your guide. Be prepared for a strenuous outing, though: it goes from height to height, but it's awesome terrain. I am totally on board with this and looking out for other books by this author now.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss


Title: Amelia's Notebook
Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Marissa Moss.

This one I picked up on close-out because it was so hilarious and so irreverent that I couldn't leave it sitting there unloved.

Amelia is a young kid who has to move away from her school and friends, starting over in a new locale. She makes random notes about her experience and about anything and everything she deems worthy of a note in hardback notebooks. You know the ones: those with the cover looking like it already has ink-blots galore on it. In some ways, she's rather like a modern, much more funny, and far less creepy .

I love the way she draws a lot to illustrate her text, and the way she's completely unafraid to tell it how it is. She rambles on about her sister, her friends - old and new - and her teachers. In some ways she actually reminds me of me when I was so young. In particular it's really funny the way she illustrates various noses she's encountered, and the way that she tinkers with the 'useful information' - you know, those obscure weights and measures - inside the back cover of the book. This particualrly reminds me of how much I loved to re-write such things.

I found this book to be completely hilarious. Hopefully that's not just me, and children of the right age will find it entertaining too. There's a host of similar material written by Moss which is worth pursuing if you liked this one.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata






Title: Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens
Author: Julie Mata
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

This is yet another novel where I quite simply could not resist the title. Had it had a different title I may well have not even read this, and what a loss that would have been to me. Let this be a lesson to budding writers: the title is vital! Don’t choose one that gets lost in fifty near-identical titles on BN or Amazon. Don’t let your publisher make you title it with something ridiculous. Tell the publisher to go screw and self-publish before you let someone take over your creation. The world is littered with the corpses of novels that failed. Big Publishing™ does not have a guaranteed Midas touch. Now I’ll look a prize idiot if Disney-Hyperion chose Mata's title for her! Lol!

Kate Walden, the main character, has issues, the most serious of which seems to be what almost amounts to a phobia regarding the chickens her mother keeps. Kate, 12, resents these chickens with a passion so great that she spends her entire energy budget on creating her movie, and thinking about her movie, and plotting her movie. If there's one thing she hates on par with chickens, it’s eggs. Which is worse? It's hard to say; it gets kinda scrambled in my mind.

The movie, being made on a leg and a wing, is about a time when the chickens cause everyone in the vicinity to turn into zombies. She's yoked in a host of people to play zombies, and her best friend Alyssa, who dreams of Hollywood, is the star. The movie has become a swollen Soufflé of about three hours length, and she still has no ending. In her ongoing search for extra zombies, Kate is lured by Alyssa to invite the head of the pecking order at school, Lydia, to play one more zombie for one more scene. From that point on, life seems to turn into chicken-droppings for Kate.

Lydia is a disaster, and Kate gets no useful footage, but Alyssa starts bonding with Lydia: they're cracking each other up, egging each other on. Soon, Alyssa and Kate are no longer on speaking terms and Kate is hatching an elaborate and risky plan to get even with Alyssa for this betrayal. As if that isn't bad enough, she suspects her dad of being a bad egg in their family life, and she's walking on eggshells with her mom after a big fight. What on Earth ruffled all these feathers? Is it wise, in forming friendships, to put all your eggs in one basket? You're going to have to read this novel to find out, but be warned, you will be laughing out loud at those evil chickens, at Kate's take on life, and at her daily trials and tribulations. At least, I was. Then you'll be disturbed, then sad, and finally, happy again. Kate is awesome, and Julie Mata is an amazing writer who'd probably be a riot to have a conversation with. Don’t chicken out. Read this.

Where I ran into problems was in the same place where I seem to have consistently run into problems with ebooks this month. I look at this novel in Adobe reader and it’s fine, but when I want to read it in the Kindle, the formatting is lousy. Note that this is a review copy, so hopefully the final version will be much improved, but in this electronic age, there really is no excuse for spelling errors and poor formatting. All that does is set the fox among the chickens....

In Adobe reader, each chapter starts with an image of a film frame which contains the chapter number. Film frames are antiquated these days, but so is the hourglass, yet we still see it on our computer screens, especially if we’re running Windows! That's not the issue. In the Kindle, the frame is divorced from the chapter number. New chapter numbers do not start on new screens, but are tacked onto the end of the previous chapter, sometimes with the chapter number at the bottom of the screen and the actual chapter on the next screen, headed by an empty frame. Chapter 11 looks fine in Adobe, but in Kindle it’s chapter 1111. I don’t like to crow, but I know that's fifteen in binary. It gets an 'F' in hexadecimal….

Some speech isn't separated as it should be (by starting a new line for a different character's speech), but run together pretty much in the same sentence. Some words are run together with spaces between the individual letters instead of between the sentences! There were also (a very few) spelling errors. There is no excuse for poor spelling or poorly formatted ebooks, not even for ARCs. Fortunately, the poor formatting seems to have started (curiously!) when Kate's life starts going downhill, and particularly post chapter 1111, so I didn’t see it at the start of the novel, and I became won over by the writing sufficiently that I was willing to put up with it, but it’s never a good thing to antagonize reviewers with poor formatting. I will remember the 11/11 disaster for a long time…!

Back to the review in progress. Kate starts bonding with the class outcasts, Doris and Margaret, and discovers that their company isn’t so bad. Duhh! Everyone has a story to tell, and Kate ought to realize this as a movie writer/director! But she's only twelve so I’ll let that slide. This part of the novel reminds me strongly of another novel I reviewed not long ago. I was hopeful that this would not turn out like that one did. Okay, so I didn’t get the opening paragraph of chapter 24 where Kate observes that Lydia, who seems to laugh all the time, should move to India where she would have "the biggest laugh club of them all." That seemed to be off at best and a slur at worst. I'm rather fond of the Indians.

Here’s a classic quote for ya: "…it's not easy being a twelve-year-old director. I mean. How many directors have to do their math homework before they can work on their script?" I don’t know if you find that funny, but I sure do. It's well in line with the opening couple of paragraphs which feature this delight: "Worst of all, eggs come from chickens. Don’t even get me started on chickens." I don’t know what it is about that arrangement of words, but I found that seriously funny. How about this: "…my mother prefers a bunch of organic, free-range, overachiever, diabolical hens to me." and "Once again, the hens have outmaneuvered me." Finally, "There's something spooky about a bunch of chickens staring at you." Methinks Madame Mata has chickens in her past if not her present.

In summary, this is a really good novel. It’s perfect for the intended age range, and it’s even perfect for me. I loved how things went from funny to bad, to worse, to recovering, to great again. The characters are believable and well-conceived. They behave like you might expect, even when they're unpredictable, and the ending is perfect. Kate is a smart, strong, flawed, determined, inventive, funny, real girl, who doesn't need super powers to be special, or to be The Chosen One to have a great story to relate. I didn’t even mind that it was first person PoV, something which I normally detest. I thoroughly recommend this novel; get it now before it flies the coop!