Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review of Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: The New Girl by Meg Cabot

Not having gotten my hands on an ARC, I had to leave on my vacation before my library had received a copy of The New Girl. Happily, my 9-year-old niece, whose mama reads this blog and had checked out Moving Day on my recommendation, had a nice fresh library copy of The New Girl. Even happier, she generously agreed to loan it to me, even though she had only just started it.

This, in my opinion, is a true measure of familial love and affection.

Allie has now moved into her new (but old) house in her new neighborhood. She has a friendly next-door neighbor named Erica with whom she is on Excited Yelling terms ("When someone is yelling at you with excitement, it's polite to yell back"). She is even friendly with Erica's two nice friends, and they are all going to be in the same 4th-grade class together.

However, it isn't easy to start a new school a couple of months into the new year, and so Allie wears her most excellent outfit - a plaid skirt with jeans. After all, "When you are starting your first day ever at a brand-new school, you have to wear something good, so people will think you're nice."

The mean girl of the 4th grade (mean not in the classic Bitch Goddess mode but rather in a rough and physical I'm-gonna-beat-you-up sort of way) makes fun of her outfit the first day and continues to be a thorn in Allie's side. Other concerns are a pressure-filled spelling bee (Allie's parents and grandma show up! No one else's family comes!), a kitten who has to be bottle-fed around the clock, and a tension-filled visit from a cranky grandma.

Allie's voice is consistently vivid and authentic, a joy to read, and there are segments of this book that are so real, it's scary. Grandma's fraught visit, for instance, will bring a shiver of recognition to adults and children alike. The grandchildren try to balance their honest affection for her with their knowledge that she is absolutely likely to buy them totally great presents, while Allie's mom tries not to kill her when Grandma finds it ludicrous that the family has waited weeks for a special back-ordered oven, and buys them one herself. (This on top of many fault-finding and/or catty comments from Grandma on all aspects of the house and family).

Allie's new friends occasionally speak more like sitcom characters or college students than real 4th-graders. For instance, Sophie says, "All we're saying Alie should do is incapacitate her enemy, then run for help." Fair enough, but when asked to explain what incapacitate means, she goes on to say, "You know. Prevent Rosemary from functioning normally for a moment because she's busy writhing in pain." This and several other similar examples occasionally jarred me out of what is otherwise a pitch-perfect novel.

This is a fast-paced read with lots of funny bits to savor, and kids in grades 3 and 4 will love it. My favorite rule? "The polite thing to say when someone gives you a compliment is Thank You."


  1. The first book I read by Cabot was When Lighting Strikes and its been love ever since. But I didn't care too much for the first Allie Finkle book. The character was a little annoying and at times read too young. But I will give the second book a chance because it is Cabot after all.

  2. My 9-year-old niece says these are her new "favorite books" and that Allie is fairly, although not completely, realistic as a 4th-grader. I love that Cabot has managed to get her trademark spice and sass into books for younger kids - hopefully she'll continue to do that.