Sunday, September 20, 2020

MMGM: Not Your All-American Girl by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Welcome to 1984. Lauren Horowitz and Tara Buchanan have always been best friends and lucky enough to be in the same class. But now they are in middle school and the only period they share is lunch. So Tara gets the idea that they should both audition for the school musical Shake It Up, set in 1958 and involving lots of hula-hooping. And although they both want to play the part of lead, Brenda Sue Parker, it goes to Tara. Why? Because Tara is the picture of an all-American girl - reddish brown hair, blue eye, milky skin and a dusting of freckles across her nose. And despite giving a better audition than Tara, Lauren, who is Jewish and Chinese, has dark eyes, dark straight hair and no freckles, ends up in the ensemble. Or as Mrs. Tyndall, the play's director, explains it: "When people see [Tara], they won't have a hard time imagining she's an all american girl from Pleasant Valley." (pg 24)

After breaking the news to her family - dad, mom, brother David, and her two grandmothers - Lauren discovers what she thinks is a kindred soul on the radio, and decides to call the DJ, Nashville Nick, to find out who the singer is. When he tells her it's Patsy Cline, Lauren immediately thinks Klein, believing her to be a Jewish country western singer whose music about loneliness and longing she instantly connects to. 

As rehearsals get underway, Lauren and Tara begin to drift away from each other. And as Lauren spends more time sitting with the other kids in the ensemble and getting to know them, she finds herself liking their company. Lauren is even doing things separate and apart from Tara. Like the singing gig her grandmother got for her at the mall and starting a button business with her button-making machine. 

But when her mother announces that she has decided to go to law school, Lauren learns one of the reasons motivating her is the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, who was beaten to death by auto workers mistakenly believing he was Japanese and blaming him for the loss of auto jobs in Detroit. Vincent Chin becomes "like a ghost in my head, darting in and out." (pg.106) Thinking about Vincent together with the realization that she is not Mrs. Tyndall's idea of an all-American girl, causes Lauren to question just the idea of what, exactly, is an all-American. And she promptly discovers that she can no sing because it no longer makes her happy. 

Will Lauren ever be able to find her voice again and speak out about the insults and the macro- and microaggressions she experiences, even from her so-called best friend Tara?

Let me begin by saying that this is a sequel to This Is Not A Test a story that focuses on Lauren's brother David and which I did not read (but which is now on my TBR list), so I can say unequivocally that Not Your All-American Girl is a great stand alone novel. 

I was in college when this story takes place so I really enjoyed all the cultural references and details about daily life at the time (including the allusion to the very popular Jane Fonda workout video and leg warmers), and I am also a big Patsy Cline fan. Interestingly, I haven't watched Pretty in Pink since the 1980s and had completely forgotten about the racist references to Long Duk Dong. I can't blame Lauren for her reaction to the kid making fun of her after the movie. 

I liked that Lauren had the support of her family no matter what, especially her trivia-loving brother. Both grandmothers, one Jewish, one Chinese, were very competitive where Lauren was concerned, and they both offered lots of good humor throughout the story, which it sometimes needed. I am glad the story didn't focus on what was happening on the stage as much as behind the scenes where the real and more important action was taking place. Interestingly, for all this is a story about being seen for who you are, Mrs. Tyndall never really came together in my mind, but her preconceived notions of what an all-American looks like certainly did.  

Not Your All-American Girl is an serious exploration of one girl's awakening regarding friendship, race, and identity with some fun subplots readers will definitely find amusing. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic

If you would like to know more about Vincent Chin, offers a succinct article about it HERE

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.


  1. This sounds like a powerful book that deals with a lot of important issues. I'm sure I'd remember some of the same things from that time period. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. So many important themes in this story that teens need to know about. I would have been 7 in 1958, and grew up in the 60s. Was aware of the many injustices in my teens. I remember when it was a big deal to have a German student study at our school. Think I'd enjoy reading this book! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have many happy memories from the 80s although never did partake in the Jane Fonda videos! This is the type of historical novel I enjoy with family issues of the time period. I'll be looking for both the books and thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. This looks like a book I'll love reading - I was teaching high school in the early 80s and a group of us faculty met in a classroom after school a couple times a week to do the Jane Fonda workout. Definitely putting it on my reading list.

  5. Ooh, this one looks good! I can relate to her having two different grandmas. (I love grandmas!)

  6. This sounds like an excellent book! It's great to see books pointing out how racism doesn't just express itself in big, awful incidents (like Vincent Chin's death), but everyday life as well. Thanks for the great post!

  7. I remember leg warmers and Pretty in Pink! This sounds like a story with a lot of layers. I'm really drawn to the musical theater backdrop too.

  8. I don't think there are a lot of MG books set in the 80s. That's fun. But this sounds like a pretty important book, one that will open readers' eyes. Thanks for telling me about it. I will try to check it out soon.


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