In the Middle Monday is where I review books geared towards the middle school audience.
When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny’s life isn’t what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn’t talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there’s Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily. There are also bright spots in Hog’s Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life’s unexpected turns. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)
The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler is a book I might have missed had it not been a title being considered for next year’s book battle. A 2011-2012 Truman Award nominee, I found not only the characters fun and endearing, but Hepler’s writing sprinkled with sage insights about several teen issues including divorce, death, abandonment, and bullying.
While the main conflict focuses around Penny dealing with her parent’s divorce, being uprooted her from Manhattan, her father and her friends, adjusting to a small town, and being the target of resident mean girl Charity’s disdain, Hepler brilliantly mixes in through her other extraordinary characters a host of other conflicts as well without making the reader feel overly stuffed. For example, Tally was a marvelous character, whose quirky nonconformist ways had me laughing and wishing I had had a friend just like her when I was in middle school. Tally gives Penny great advice, and eventually Penny is able to see that her glass is actually half full as she begins to understand that Tally is also dealing with her own issues due to the abandonment of her father.
Penny also begins to put her own problems into perspective as she gets to know more about Marcus, the cute boy Penny is crushing on. Marcus is dealing with the death of his mom, and his father’s disconnect from losing his wife. The relationship that arises between the two was sweetly portrayed and innocent enough to keep this book firmly within the middle school genre.
Finally, I loved how Hepler succinctly added insights through the voice of her characters, which kept them from being too philosophical for the book’s audience. For example:
“I think about the problem with running from your trouble. The problem is in the stopping. The whole time you think you’re getting away from everything, the trouble is running like mad, too, trying to catch up with you. And it doesn’t slow down when you do --- it keeps on sprinting. So when trouble finally reaches you, it hits you hard.”
"It’s hard when things don’t happen like you think they’re suppose to,” ... “I guess at some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.”
Like a cupcake, which is just the right size when you want something sweet and delicious, The Cupcake Queen has all the right ingredients for a good middle school book except that it definitely is written more for girls than boys. Still the insights gained from this story holds true no matter what sex or age the reader might be.