Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lessons From a Wallflower

The latest from author Lisa Graff, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, is as good as her first book The Thing About Georgie, which I also liked a lot. It's a difficult thing to follow one highly acclaimed book with what looks like to be another, but she has definitely done it.

I am not the first to blog about this book, Mother Reader, A Year of Reading, and the author Lisa Graff have all done it.

The book hooked me from the get-go. The exploits of Bernetta's "best" friend Ashley brought to mind the movie Mean Girls. Hey, when you have a teenage daughter in the house, you see all of the quality films! Anyway, the next chapter jumps to Bernetta riding her bike to her father's magic dinner club. I loved the fast forward to the end of school when we find out that she has been grounded for the summer for some misdeed that she didn't commit. A victim of mean girl Ashley. Immediately, you are cheering for Bernetta to get even and you don't care how.

Once again, Graff has introduced an interesting bunch of characters. Bernetta's father is a magician that runs a dinner theater that specializes in magic, Bernetta is her father's assistant. Gabe, a teenage con artist wannabe, who knows all of the great crime movies and quotes them constantly. Colin, Bernetta's six-year old brother, who is constantly in his own world of make believe. Elsa, Bernetta's older sister, who just graduated as valedictorian of her class, and many minor characters that just come in and out of the story like cameo actors in an old movie.

The dilemma that Bernetta is facing is that her scholarship to private school has been revoked because of Ashley framing her for a cheating scandal. The only way she can get back in is to raise the $9000 tuition. There aren't many ways for a 12-year old to raise that kind of money in the summer, so Bernetta turns, reluctantly to a life of crime. Her tutor, Gabe, schools her in the fine art of conning people out of money. Because of her background in magic, Bernetta is quite good at it.

The climax of the book is very much like The Sting, one of Gabe's favorite movies. A double con is pulled and the mean girl Ashley gets her just reward. Bernetta also realizes that choices she makes can affect her for the rest of her life, and comes clean in the end. I could not put this book down.

I will recommend it to my fourth and fifth graders. The book has a great deal to teach about friendship, choices, consequences and family. Lisa Graff has created another great book for kids.

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