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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gold, Maya. Cinderella Cleaners: Change of a Dress. Scholastic, 2010. 209 pages.

Cinderella Cleaners: Prep Cool. Scholastic, 2010. 155 pages (3 1/2 stars out of 4). These books are appropriate for grades 4 to 7, or ages 9 to 13, depending on reading level.

I don’t know about you, but I am surprised that reality television has lasted this long. I must sound like my great-grandparents in 1955 claiming that “damn noise” called rock and roll wouldn’t last the decade. The reality genre has spawned its own cottage industry of B-grade stars and personalities, feeding other shows like Dancing with the Stars, so it feeds on itself like the paradoxical snake that eats its own tail. The most disturbing contradiction about reality shows is that the whole point we watch them is to experience the plight of Everyperson, but the subjects of the shows become famous because of their exploits, thereby nullifying their Everyperson status. What I like most about the two books that begin the Cinderella Cleaners series by Maya Gold is that main character Diana Donato does not become famous when she is brushed with fame; she does not taunt when she has the opportunity to flaunt. She remains an Everyperson whatever happens, and when she makes mistakes, she understands why and rectifies them for the right reasons. The bottom line is that I like Diana, and I think readers will too.

The first book in the Cinderella Cleaners series, Change of a Dress, sets up the series. Eighth-grader Diana Donato and her best friend Jess Munson attend New Jersey’s Weehawkin Middle School. Diana is furious because she has to miss the school play when her stepmother Fay insists she get a job, but fortunately, her father owns a dry cleaners and she can work for him. The store has a cast of colorful minor characters who occasionally pop in and out of the story; I can imagine future books featuring one or more of them in more prominent roles. Diana’s two favorite things are Broadway and acting, and when she is going through a jacket at the cleaners and finds amazing tickets and cast party passes to the hottest show on Broadway, Angel, featuring new hottie Adam Kessler (imagine a cross between Nick Jonas and Robert Pattinson), she desperately wants to go, even if it means “borrowing” a customer’s dress under repair. Diana must decide how to get to New York without her parents’ knowledge, get fitted for the dress, and hope against hope that the owners of the dress and tickets do not show up to ruin her dream night.

In the shorter second Cinderella Cleaners novel, Prep Cool, friend Will (and maybe—just maybe—a secret crush for Diana) gets his first musical gig at an exclusive local prep school party. He invites Diana and Jess to the party even though everyone there thinks they own the place (and probably do), and our middle-class heroines are out of their league. Jess meets a guy and immediately falls for him, and she entrusts Diana with her bag and her prized cell phone. Trouble ensues when one of the local female fashionista bullies sees Jess with the boy she wants. Revenge knows no lows to the villainous Brooke, and although Jess risks some embarrassment, Diana may be dealing with the end of her relationship with her BFF because of her mistake.

I like the Cinderella Cleaners novels for a few reasons. The action is not outrageous, it is just outside of the realm of the ordinary, in that netherworld between the very possible and the utterly fantastic. I like the main characters, and although many of the minor characters are little more than stereotypes, they may be developed in future books. Ms. Gold uses simple but effective visual images like the Empire State Building at night or the hectic, fly-by culture of the cleaners to spruce up the action, and it is an effective method to increase the reader’s connection to the North Jersey and New York City characters and settings. Also, Diana realizes throughout the two novels that although her life has troubles; i.e. her stepmom isn’t perfect, she must navigate the beginning of interest in relationships, mean girls at school occasionally taunt, her boss at the cleaners can be a challenge, etc., she is better off in her middle-class life than in many other seemingly glamorous lives. Diana accepts and embraces who she is and does not dream of being someone else more pretty, or more wealthy, or more famous like this week’s morally deficient Jon & Kate. Diana is comfortable in her own skin, although she continually has to prove it like every middler. I believe Maya Gold has tapped into a winning formula with the Cinderella Cleaners series; after all, not everyone wants to be a vampire or a werewolf, right? Like the Candy Apple books, this series will be great for reading over a break or at the beach this summer.

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