Thursday, September 02, 2010

Nice and Mean, by Jessica Leader

Whenever I am in the mood for some tween realistic fiction that is fun yet solidly written, I know that I can reach for a title from Aladdin Mix. I have yet to be disappointed. This time I read the title Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader, and I know I’ll have something to hand off to my tween girls this September.

Marina is mean. There’s no real getting around it. She’s not quite queen bee material, but at Jacobs Middle School she decides what category kids fall into, especially regarding their fashion choices. She does read Seventeen and watch all of the fashion shows on television after all!

Sachi, on the other hand, is a nice girl. So nice, in fact, that she got voted “Nicest Girl” in nasty Marina’s poll of kids in their school. By why do people think Sachi’s so nice? Sure she lends out enough pencils that she has to dip into her own allowance to replenish, but she doesn’t have too many friends who really know her. She’s all about school because that is how her parents want her to be. They moved from India and sacrifice to stay in Manhattan for Sachi and her two sisters, and they expect the best.

Ironically enough, Sachi did something not so nice in order to get into video class. Her folks want her in Test Prep to give her a leg up in a couple of years to get into Stuyvesant (Manhattan’s super competitive academic high school). Sachi forged her parents’ signatures and now finds herself paired of with Marina of all people for her video project. A video based on the fashion show Victim/Victorious was not was Sachi had in mind when she was going to all of the trouble of getting into the class.

Marina does have a knack of getting her way, but at the last minute Sachi lets her video teacher know that she is interested in another angle of the fashion question. Namely, why are some things in and some out? Who decides? In fact, why are some cultures considered cooler than others? Their teacher lets the girls work separately in the name of getting things done, but when Marina breaks some rules and brings a copy of her rough cut of video home to work on and some of her friends see the way that her fashion victim Rachel is treated, everything hits the fan.

Marina’s actions have lots more consequences than she ever could have foreseen. One being that she needs Sachi more than she ever could have imagined. Will Sachi be able to find her own voice and speak up for what she needs?

Jessica Leader has gotten the multiple worlds of the middle schooler down pat. Seventh grade tends to be a time of big changes…of kids figuring out who they want to be and where they are going to fit in. Marina and Sachi, while seemingly opposites, illustrate this beautifully. Round out the cast of their satellite friends and many types of kids are shown without seeming like Leader simply lined up types and put them in. Nice and Mean shows readers that most likely, the kids they think of as mean aren’t all mean, and the kids who seem nice definitely have some back story of their own!

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