Vogel writes each chapter from a different girls' perspective. The chapters are in first-person point of view, and it doesn't take long to recognize each girl's distinct voice. Emma is a bookworm, and she and her mom are quite close. However, their family doesn't have much money and she feels embarrassed wearing hand-me-downs to school. Megan and Emma used to be friends in elementary school, but Megan would rather spend time shopping, creating fashion designs and enjoying her new, more affluent friends. Cassidy is having a hard time adjusting to life in Concord, instead of California. She and her mother and sister moved after her dad died. She'd rather be playing hockey than reading, but her super-model mother is glad there isn't a girls' hockey team in Concord. Jess is sweet, but lives on a farm and comes to school smelling like goats. It doesn't help that she is a couple of grades above the other girls in math and science.
The book club deals with typical tween girl struggles, including misunderstandings between friends, bullies at school, crushes on boys and trouble with parents. We spend lots of time at school, home, and in the community, but we also get to sit on on the book club meetings. Vogel always works in interesting handouts about the author being studied, as well. The book club often takes trips together, and we usually get to see some of the history surrounding the featured author.
Each book in the series takes place in the subsequent year, so in book two, Much Ado about Anne, the girls are in seventh grade and read Anne of Green Gables. In Dear Pen Pal, (book three) they read Daddy Long-Legs . They read Pride and Prejudice in book four, Pies and Prejudice. By book five, Home for the Holidays, the girls are in tenth grade and reading the entire Betsy-Tacy Series.
Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from the classic book the club is reading, and each book ends with a thoughtful, interesting discussion guide for real book clubs reading Frederick's book.
What I Like: I love this series! Of course, being a mom of daughters and an English teacher, how could I not love a series combining tween/teen life and reading classics?
Frederick does such a great job capturing all the girl drama of tweens and teens, but showing the girls positive ways to resolve differences and misunderstandings. I also love the fact the moms are intelligent, caring and quirky, but realistic. Some of the girls are close to their moms, but some of the mother-daughter pairs deal with conflict and embarrassment. However, it is clear the moms love their daughters regardless of the difficulties in their relationships.
Frederick also writes about boys in a positive, age-appropriate manner. In the first book, a couple of the girls have crushes on boys, but it is the beginning of ninth grade before the first book club member gets her first kiss. By tenth grade, a couple of the girls have boyfriends and kissing and hand-holding are mentioned here and there. The boys in the relationships are kind and respectful, and the kissing is innocent--accompanied by beating hearts and blushing, but "PDA" (public displays of affection) and one-on-one dating are generally discouraged. I appreciate the girls' "BFBB" pact ("Best Friends Before Boyfriends"), and the examples Vogel includes of how the pact works.
I also like the way the moms (and dads) handle consequences in the books. Sometimes, the girls play pranks or are mean to each other, but they are always disciplined when things get out of hand.
What I Dislike: Nothing, but these aren't the books to read if you are hoping your teens will wait to kiss until after high school or later. The kissing, while not emphasized, is sweet and romantic, and definitely portrayed in a positive light.
Age Appeal: Publisher lists 9 and up, but the books would work best for readers the same age as the book club members in each book (so book one, sixth grade, book 3 eighth grade, etc. . .) due to the dating relationships.
Publisher Info: Simon and Schuster, 2007 (book one); ISBN: 978-1-4169-7-79-8; paperback, 237 pages, $6.99
Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $5.99
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $6.99.
Special Note: Book 6, Wish You Were Eyre is scheduled to be published in September of this year.
The Kindle edition of book two, Much Ado About Anne, had consistent, distracting problems with capitalization, but the rest of the Kindle editions were fine.
Also, the books were best if you have read the classic being studied, but are enjoyable without reading the book club book, as well.