Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness written by Kate Beasley, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Gertie Reece Foy is a fifth-grader that lives with her dad and her Aunt Rae. Her mother, Rachel Collins, had left her family when Gertie was just a baby and is now living in a house Gertie passes everyday on her way to and from school. Now, however, Rachel Collins was selling her house, getting married and moving a way.

But before she leaves (again), Gertie has a Five Phase plan to get her mother's attention, and Phase One involves becoming the greatest fifth-grader she can possibly be. That way, Gertie could launch Phase Two of her plan - showing her mother just how awesome she is, so much so, that she just didn't even need a mother. Not being Gertie's mom will be Rachel Collins' loss.

Unfortunately, Phase One doesn't work out exactly the way Gertie had planned when she is usurped by a new student claiming Gertie's front row seat between friends Junior and Jean as her own. It doesn't take long for Mary Sue Spivey to become a major thorn in Gertie's side, especially when she announces that her father is a film director and she is friendly with Jessica Walsh, who just so happens to be very popular and has her own TV show. Added to that, no matter how hard Gertie studies, Mary Sue's grades are always better.

But movie stars, film directors and good grades aren't Gertie's only Mary-Sue-Spivey-induced-problems; Mary Sue's mother is an environmental lobbyist who is working on shutting down the very same oil rig that Gertie's father works on. And to rub salt in that wound, Mary Sue creates the Clean Earth Club, dedicated to exposing the truth about offshore oil drilling. Before she knows it, Gertie loses even her best friend Jean to Mary Sue and her quickly formed clique of fifth-graders.

It certainly looks like all of Gertie's high hopes for fifth grade and her five-phase plan to get her mother to acknowledge her just aren't going to work out. Is there any chance Gertie and her arch-rival Mary Sue can find a middle ground?

Gertie's Leap to Greatness has everything going for it to make it an ideal novel for middle grade readers.  Gertie is a spunky protagonist, who just wants to be acknowledged by her mother. In fact, I found her loneliness and feelings of abandonment poignant and palpable, despite the fact that she lives with a loving father and aunt. Gertie, like so many kids, blames herself for her mother's leaving, as though there were something inherently wrong with her that made Rachel Collins unable to love and mother her. Gertie's defensive false bravado is easy to see through, though a very realistic response to her mother's (assumed by Gertie) rejection of her.

Mary Sue Spivey is an excellent foil for Gertie. Mary Sue is a lot richer than Gertie and can afford to buy friends; she is assertive and confident, appearing to be everything Gertie isn't. Mary Sue manages to make Gertie look and feel like a real loser and even turns her classmates, with whom Gertie has been friends since kindergarten, into bullies. Of course, astute readers will see through Mary Sue's defensive false bravado just as they do Gertie's. But I kept wondering why their teacher didn't intervene sooner in some of the antics carried out during school hours.

Plotwise, I thought Gertie's Leap to Greatness had a little too much going on for a tween novel. The mother/daughter storyline would have been enough for one book, as was the Gertie/Mary Sue rivalry over grades, offshore drilling and the environmental issues.

Characterwise, I just didn't like Gertie very much. She was way too self-involved to the point of being oblivious to others, which is why I can understand her best friend Jean navigating away from her and into the clique formed by Mary Sue. Granted, Gertie has an important lesson to learn about appreciating family and friends, but she just never felt like a sympathetic protagonist to me, even after that.

On the whole, however, I would still recommend Gertie's Leap to Greatness if only for the realistic way Kate Beasley portrayed Gertie's mother issues, and the fact that sometimes a parent is just not able to parent and that is a painful reality for any child to deal with.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book is an EARC received from NetGalley

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