FINALLY by Wendy Mass

So I want to tell you how much I loved this book.  

But first I need to tell you a story.

I didn’t have any author obligations at ALA Midwinter last month, so I took my kids, both avid readers, to ogle the upcoming books in the exhibit hall.  My eight-year-old daughter knows enough about the publishing industry to know that one can sometimes snag advance reader copies of books by one’s favorite authors at such events.  She also knows that ARCs have a job to do, that they actually cost more to produce than final books, and she understands that she shouldn’t take an ARC unless she is quite sure that she will read it, like it, talk about it to her friends, and maybe even write a little review for me to share on my blog.

Which brings me to the Scholastic booth at ALA Midwinter, where E was hoping beyond hope that she might find an ARC of FINALLY by Wendy Mass.  It’s a follow-up to ELEVEN BIRTHDAYS, which is one of my daughter’s all-time favorites.  We found the book on display, but they were out of ARCs. The very nice Scholastic rep really wanted E to leave with a book, though, so she offered her two others that were there.  Here’s what happens when very-kind-publisher-lady clashes with author’s-child-who-does-not-want-ARCs-to-go-to-waste…

Nice Scholastic Lady:  Here, you can take both of these.

E:  *looks at books*  Oh, that’s okay. Thank you, though.

Nice Scholastic Lady:  Really, you can have them. They’re free.

E:  Thanks, but these aren’t really my cup of tea.

Nice Scholastic Lady: That’s okay. If you don’t like them, you can give them to your friend.

E: *looks at books again*  I don’t think they would be her cup of tea either.

Nice Scholastic Lady: It’s really okay. You can take them.

E: No thank you.

I eventually jumped in to end the standoff by explaining our ARC discussion and why my daughter was so steadfastly refusing this poor woman’s efforts to be kind. She understood, and then took a little notepad and asked for our address.  A few weeks later, E got a package in the mail.  She squealed and went running to her favorite reading chair.

Thank you, Nice Scholastic Lady!

After I managed to pry FINALLY out of her hands, I got to read it, too.  And really?  It was worth the wait and then some.   The main character, Rory Swenson, has been waiting forever to turn twelve. That’s when she’ll finally be able to do everything she’s been waiting for. Buy a cell phone…get her ears pierced…go to a boy-girl party. She’s about to have everything she’s ever wanted.

Except that everything she’s ever wanted manages to go horribly, horribly wrong in the funniest ways possible. FINALLY had me laughing out loud over and over again.  It’s written in that fantastic, trademark Mass voice — the one that would make you swear she’s really twelve years old herself — and the characters are real and wonderful.

FINALLY is set in the same world as ELEVEN BIRTHDAYS and has a touch of that same magical realism, but above all else, this is a warm, incredibly funny book about wanting to grow up and learning that it’s also okay to be a kid. Loved, loved, loved it.  Every girl who’s ever been impatient to be a little older will love it, too.  FINALLY is due out from Scholastic on March 1, 2010.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

I often feel sorry for people who don’t read good books;
they are missing a chance to lead an extra life.
                                                ~ Scott Corbett ~

When I think about why my favorite books are my favorites, Scott Corbett’s sentiments ring true. So many of them involve real-life places I’ve never been or fantasy worlds that I long to visit.  And some introduce me to worlds that I haven’t known well but suddenly find myself wanting to explore.  Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown, October 1, 2008) is one of those books.

The book is set at the Moon Shadow Campground in the days surrounding a total solar eclipse, and three narrators tell the story of how their paths converge there, just as the moon’s shadow crosses the sun. There’s Ally, a self-confident, home-schooled kid who has grown up at the Moon Shadow, spending her time searching for alien signals and arranging rocks in the campground labyrinth.  There’s Bree, firmly entrenched in the life of an urban middle school social butterfly until her parents drop the bomb that she’s moving to the middle of nowhere so they can work on a research project.  And there’s Jack, who flunked science class and is sentenced to a summer project at the Moon Shadow with his teacher.  Often, when I read a novel with multiple narrators I end up liking one better than the others and wishing the whole book were written in that voice, but that wasn’t the case here; every voice was distinct and every character so well-developed that I loved them as individuals and felt like I cared about each of their stories.

As a middle school teacher, I always get extra excited about titles that connect to the curriculum and still maintain the rich characters, plot twists, humor, and tension that keep kids reading on their own.  Every Soul a Star is loaded with astronomy, presented in a way that’s accessible and compelling. It made me want to spend more time looking up at the night sky, and I found myself googling the time and location of the next total solar eclipse because this book convinced me this is something I need to see.  Every Soul a Star is a perfect choice for middle school teams connecting English and Science classes, but it’s also a terrific character-driven journey to the stars that kids will enjoy on their own.