The unnamed narrator in Jo Ann Beard’s coming-of-age story is just trying to make it through ninth grade. Mom says she and her best friend Felicia are late bloomers, which sounds better than “weird”. From a failed summer babysitting gig to a very intentional stint in detention, the two friends don’t mind being weird as long as they’re together. But even the late ones have to bloom at some point. Things like boys and whether they look dorky in their band uniforms suddenly become more important than sleepovers in Felicia’s camper. When the narrator is invited to an in-crowd bonfire without Felicia, she has to decide if being popular is more important than being a friend.
Although set in the 1970s, it didn’t read as a historical novel. The ’70s (and never specified more than that) are just a backdrop of lava lamps and peasant skirts for a coming-of-age story that could have been set at any time. Told through a seemingly unconnected series of events, the novel felt almost like a memoir-disguised-as-fiction at times. I did enjoy the relationship between the two friends and the realism of their interactions – the author does an excellent job of painting those awkward tween years – but there isn’t a cohesive plot or definite character growth. Most of the narrator’s successes are through accidents, not intention. The novel is well-written, but just not for me.