December 26, 2012

How to Survive Absolutely Anything

by Helaine Becker
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
200 pp.
Ages 8-12

Bonnie and Jen, two 14-year-olds in Grade 9, have the right idea.  Having "lived through" the middle grades (a.k.a. junior high or intermediate grades), they are willing to share what they've learned with any young person who writes to them at their blog, "How to Survive Absolutely Anything, with Bonnie and Jen".

The girls have a wealth of experiences, as their profiles acknowledge.  With a father who left and remarried and now is raising a second young family, and with a mother who remarried a man with older children of his own, Bonnie knows all about blended families.  In fact, she's having a hard time dealing with her step-brother, Carter, who seems to always be in her business.  Jen, on the other hand, only has her baby sister, Julia, who was born just after the accidental death of their father.  Mom Colette (who wants to be known as Tina) works as a nurse and has had (does have?) a drinking problem and recklessly puts Jen in a position of responsibility far too often.

Through their blog postings, profiles, Bonnie's journal and chapter heading survival skills, the reader learns how very different the girls' takes are on situations, and the fusion of their opinions and advice generally leads to some wise and heartfelt responses to their readers' queries.
If you're not going to like waking up with yourself after you've done something, you better not do it.  Because whatever good feeling you get out of doing the bad thing (staying longer at the fun party, getting to be with that girl, bringing home the A on the test you cheated on) doesn't last as long as the rotten feeling that comes along with it.  (pg. 80)
But, when Bonnie goes online alone (something the girls had promised not to do), she responses to Crushed's concern about having strong feelings for his step-sister, negating his feelings when she believes that he is her own step-brother Carter.  Eventually Bonnie realizes how many "gynormous errors" she has made in so many aspects of her life, from the blog to boys, to her family and her friends, and that she can still use a little (a lot?) of advice about the choices she makes.

Helaine Becker thanks fellow youngCanLit author Marsha Skrypuch for encouraging her to write this book, just as I would like to thank Helaine Becker.  Writing an appropriate yet meaningful middle-grade fiction is not always easy, but How to Survive Absolutely Anything fills that need beautifully.  Without treating the readers as young children or as young adults, Helaine Becker gives them a voice that explores their concerns and foibles, without pushing them into the realm of true young adult fiction.  There are many young people in the middle grades who just aren't ready to embrace the edgier fiction of YA, with its more mature subjects such as sexuality.  They may be in their early teens but they're only starting to notice the opposite sex.  While some of their peers may be living the lives of mature teens, comfortable in their own skins, making decisions and choices akin to adults (though not always well, just like us), there are middle grade readers who want to read about how others begin navigating into their teen years before they take their own first steps.  How to Survive Absolutely Anything provides a light but credible account of young girls who think they have experienced and survived all the predicaments of the middle-graders only to find that a whole new set of annoyances and dilemmas lurk on the horizon.
"You can trust me on this one --or find out the hard way.  It's your call" (pg. 80)

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