Review of the Day: Thirteen
By Lauren Myracle
Dutton Children’s Books (a division of Penguin)
On shelves now
It’s always weird to drop right smack dab into the middle of a series. You never know whether you’re missing out on some subtle details from the previous books, or even whether or not the book in your hand would be better if you knew its characters already. It’s more of a problem with series books, I suppose. Realistic fiction doesn’t contain crazy names and weird interior logics. Tween books starring girl characters supposedly are all the same too. The idea is that if you’ve read the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry then you’ve read the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Alice series then you’ve read the Lauren Myracle books, and so on and so on. Which, let’s face it, isn’t true at all. Tween girl heroines each have their own set of quirks and characteristics and Lauren Myracle is no exception. Now I’ve heard a couple people who are fans of Myracle pooh-poohing her latest book Thirteen. They say it isn’t as strong as the other books or the plot wraps up too neatly. Stuff along those lines. Well I myself haven’t read any other books by Ms. Myracle except for thistitle and what I read I really liked. I’m sure that every series like this one has its supporters, but when it comes to an incredible voice and a likable heroine, color me a new Myracle fan. I can’t wait to start recommending this book left and right to my patrons.
She survived the age of eleven. She breezed (sorta) through the age of twelve. Now Winnie Perry is a great big beautiful thirteen and boy is she feeling it. She has a boyfriend (sorta sorta) by the name of Lars who seems okay and all but is much better at kissing than communicating. She has her two best friends Cinnamon and Dinah by her side, helping her through her roles. And then there are her siblings, moody for their own reasons, and a mom who has a couple secrets of her own. The trek into teenagerhood is fraught with many perils, but through it all Winnie comes this much closer to knowing who she is and what she can accomplish.
Ms. Myracle is one of the few authors I know of to acknowledge and thank her cover artist (in this case the fabulously named “Beegee Tolpa”). For this reason alone I believe that she must have more in common with her charming heroine than one might initially think. It doesn’t hurt matters any that Myracle gets the sheer level of tween/teen selfishness down pat. The constant fears that you aren’t looking the way that you should be looking, for example. She has an ear for relaying when people trying to hard, like Winnie laughing uproariously at her friends’ jokes when Lars is near, so as to look wild and free and attractive. I loved too how Myracle accurately got down the fogginess teens feel about what constitutes “old” (example: “I thought it was important to make this promise to myself now, before I turned thirty and got saggy and fat.”). She gets the age.
I suppose I could see how Winnie’s bon mots might tap dance on a person’s nerves, but somehow they never got to me. I liked her insights most times. Like when a popular girl acts like she’s a loser, which was weird but, “better than being snotty”. I loved her cheery sarcasm regarding boring children’s primers. “Oh, the joy of short A’s. Might there be a bat in the cat’s future? A bat wearing a hat? Who knew! That’s what made it so exciting!” Any author that can make a thirteen-year-old character sound like someone who would call herself a stud (“that’s the kind of stud I am”) wins my heart. She also has this unexpectedly dirty mouth that just pops out of nowhere. I can think of at least one section where the words “turd”, “penis”, and “vagina” all pop out at you, and somehow it’s funny rather than overly scatological.
Some things didn’t sit with me perfectly, though. Maybe I just had a really self-involved life, but when I was thirteen nobody had parties where they invited the whole class. I went to public school, though, and Winnie is going to a private one where issues of class and race (set against an Atlanta setting, no less) never even come up. Still, I can’t imagine the kind of privilege a person would have to be raised in to hear about 14-year-olds throwing house parties with hot tubs and liquor cabinets. It happens probably, but at least in my own case it made Winnie’s story seem so much older than its scant thirteen years. Then again, if Myracle continues at the rate she’s been going, Winnie’s gonna be nineteen soon and possibly outgrowing her young fans. On the other other hand, I have this weird desire for that to happen. Remember in the old days when books like Betsy-Tacy and Anne of Green Gables would just keep going and going until their characters grew up, got married, and had kids? How cool would it be if Lauren Myracle continued that trend? I mean, what if? I know that publishers would shy away from that kind of retro writing, but I think that there’s a real allure in following a character through life. Winnie certainly has plenty of material to work from, and instead of the standard marriage ending you could finish the series off with something appropriately grown-up, mature, and feminist. Awesome.
Spoiler alert, if you care for that sort of thing. I’m sure that there will be teen girls cheering Winnie on for getting back together with Lars at the end of the book when he apologizes for being a doofus, but I know that the adults reading the story will wish heartily that Winnie moved on. Wouldn’t she be so much better off with that nice boy she met on the camping trip? Lars is the kind of guy willing to laugh at his sweetheart if it’ll impress the sexy girl with the nose ring hanging about. If I were Winnie I’d dump the fool and move on. But then, maybe that’s where Myracle is going and we’ll get some kind of magnificent dumping scene in the next book. Hey, a gal can hope can’t she?
If you’re too old to get a book’s references (My Super Sweet Sixteen anyone?) are you too old to review it? Not if the characters smack of reality, the story’s fun, and the drama lies at a low ebb (which, for me, is a definite plus). I don’t know how many more Winnie books Ms. Myracle has in her system, but here’s hoping she keeps cranking them out. Ms. Myracle has a brand new fan.
On shelves now.
Other Blog Reviews: A Patchwork of Books, And Another Book Read, and The Book Brat
- An interview with Ms. Myracle in Publishers Weekly.
- Another interview on the blog Veronika asks.
- Another interview on LittleMissMatched’s blog.
- A visit she made to the Book Divas.
- And Lauren’s MySpace page.
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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