Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wollman, Jessica. Tell Me Who (2 stars out of 4)
When I teach the Dewey Decimal System for the first time to my fifth graders, I stumble a bit at the 100s, Philosophy and Psychology. Philosophy is just a big word to most of my 10-year-olds, so I attempt to explain that they deal with philosophical issues all day: seeing a friend possibly cheat on a test and deciding whether or not to report it; giving part of your lunch to someone you know is hungry; sharing beliefs about religion, culture, media, etc. Jessica Wollman’s new novel Tell Me Who raises an intriguing philosophical dilemma: If you had a machine that knows who anyone will marry, what would you do with that knowledge?
Molly Paige is insecure about everything: her ineptitude on the basketball court, her lack of “development” as compared to other girls in her sixth grade class, and her fear that she will not get invited to the popular girl’s pool party, to name a few. Embarrassment seems to be an integral part of Molly’s life, i.e. when she accidentally scrapes her shoe against the floor at lunch and makes an accidental gas noise, even her best friend Tanna thinks she needs to change her diet; Molly gets a bit tired of her friend’s pushy advice: “I know she’s only trying to help, but all that advice gets sort of annoying. Especially since I never ask for it” (31). However, Molly’s biggest problem is her mean and demanding future stepmother, nicknamed The Claw because of her fingernails: “They’re long and Wolverine sharp; we’re pretty sure they can slice cans. The Claw paints them pink, red, or white. She says she chooses the color depending on her mood, but I don’t believe her. The Claw really has only one mood: nightmare” (14). Molly and Tanna become intrigued when they find an antique in Molly’s basement that seems to state who anyone will marry, but when they test it, they discover two disturbing facts: it predicts that The Claw will marry Molly’s dad, and that Molly will marry Glenn Borack, a fifth grader: “Here’s the thing: I know Glenn (Aaron) Borack . . . He’s short—really short—with dark hair that never looks clean . . . He’s the only person I’ve ever met who actually eats liverwurst. Happily” (53-54). While furtively doing everything they can to sabotage her father’s future marriage, Molly and Tanna decide to sell the machine’s services, christened the Ewmitter (a mix-up of “Who-Meter), for $10.00 a try, which opens up a whole other set of problems when people start getting uncomfortable information they do not want. Since, mysteriously, she is the only person who can operate it, Molly is faced with an ethical dilemma: Should she allow the Ewmitter to be used even if it causes pain?
The premise of Tell Me Who by Jessica Wollman is charming, and the issues it raises, ethical questions about truth and openness, peer pressure, normal pre-teen insecurity and fear, are all valid. It is possible that young readers will miss all of the loose ends in the story (for example, why can only Molly operate the Ewmitter?) and simply enjoy the fantastic elements of the novel. However, I was not satisfied. I had to overlook quite a bit to make this story believable, even without the Ewmitter. Molly is a true Everygirl, and I can completely empathize with her insecurities, but I cannot tolerate plot development as fantastic as the premise of the book. Molly’s character is a contradiction of crippling insecurity and boldness that feels contrived, and too many other minor characters, such as The Claw, Molly’s dad, and her new friend Julie, remain so underdeveloped that Molly’s actions do not seem appropriately justified. Tell Me Who by Jessica Wollman is an admirable effort, but it falls a bit short of its mark. However, tweener girls may still like it for the giggle factor alone.

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