Saturday, January 28, 2012

Big Title: As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President


Somehow I've managed to read two books about kids in presidential elections during my journey through the children's fiction shelves of the library, and I'm only on the G's.  Is this a much more popular genre than I thought? I know I have another by Mitali Perkins on my TBR list.

In Donna Gephart's As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President, Vanessa is an emotionally young seventh grader struggling with spelling bees, a slowly developing body (no boobs), a crush on an obnoxious but gorgeous boy, and a frequently absent mom.  The mom has a good reason for disappearing so often -- she's running for president, but as Vanessa isn't completely over the death of her father a few years ago, she feels the absence greatly.

The story is supposed to about how Vanessa and her mom both come to accept her mom's ambitions, but I kept getting hung up in the emotional gap between them.  Vanessa is terrified of the death threats she finds, one accidentally included in her fan mail bundle but others terrifyingly showing up in her school locker.  A lot of the plot follows her attempts to deal with these, mostly making foolish mistakes and getting in trouble over them.  But the entire plot would dissolve if the mother just once stopped and realized how frightened the girl is of losing her mother, especially while recovering from the unexpected loss of her father.  A few light-hearted jokes about how the secret service would catch those losers doesn't begin to address the realistic fears, let alone the emotional terror underneath them.

At the end of the book, Vanessa's fears are almost realized, which brings the family together in a happy-ever-after, but I was left worrying that the mom would continue to distance herself.  I'd put this presidential candidate even below the driven one of Ellen White's The President's Daughter.  But I doubt kids would worry about this much; as a child I preferred fictional adults to be aloof so the kid protagonists got more action, which is how it worked out in this book.  I'll offer it to my seventh grader, if he doesn't feel too old for it (I gather that 13 is MUCH older than 12 3/4).

UPDATE:  My seventh grade son really enjoyed this book.  I'll have to get his complete reaction and add it to this review, since he is the real audience.

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