Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cliques, Hicks and Ugly Sticks: Confessions of April Grace

Alternately funny, touching, and suspenseful K.D. McCrite's, Cliques, Hicks and Ugly Sticks:  The Confessions of April Grace will resonate with tween girls stuck in those awkward, middle school years. The second book in the series finds an eleven-year-old April Grace beginning middle school and wishing family friends would move out of her house, so she could have her room back.

To make matters worse, April Grace can't figure out why her mom is acting impatient and keeping secrets. She also can't understand why a good friend from last year is deliberately snubbing her, why a boy in her class keeps paying her unwanted compliments, or why her grandma in interested in three different gentlemen.

When it becomes clear April's mother will be unable to direct the annual Christmas pageant, April suggests allowing family friend Isabel St. James to try her hand at directing. Unfortunately, Isabel is bossy, critical of small-town life, and doesn't attend church.  Nevertheless, the pastor decides to let Isabel direct the play, providing April will help.

Plot Spoilers Ahead:  Isabel and her husband are surprised when the townspeople help them fix up their house, and bless them with a house-warming party, despite Isabel's difficult personality. With April in the spotlight and Isabel directing, the play is a success, although reminiscent of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. After a medical scare, April's mother delivers her own Christmas surprise, much to April's unexpected delight.

What I Like:  April Grace is funny, spunky and authentic, as a tween trying to fit in at middle school, get along with her sister and avoid her grandma's boyfriends. Even though she rolls her eyes at Isabel and doesn't really want to be in the play, she can't help enjoying acting.  I like the way April worries about her mom but trusts her dad when he tells her everything will be alright. April's positive character shines through when she tries to think of ways to help her mom, even though she dreads change.

I also like the way April loves her grandma, even though she doesn't approve of her grandma dating. 

Although the book is often funny, McCrite's serious scenes are quite touching. 
What I Dislike:  I am not sure why McCrite chose to set the book in 1986. Although I appreciated her references to Miami Vice, Madonna, and Buick LeSabres, it seems they would be lost on today's tween audience.

April Grace's voice is replete with Southern vernacular and references, which sometimes sounds authentic, but sometimes sounds forced.

As always, I dislike book covers with photographs.  The cover model is adorable, but it is easier to imagine yourself as a part of a story without having to compare yourself to a photograph.
Overall Rating:  Very good, despite minor dislikes.

Age Appeal:  8-12

Publisher Info: Tommy Nelson, 2011; ISBN:978-1-4003-1826-1 ; Paperback, 282 pages, $9.99

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $8.19
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $9.99.

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