Friday, October 30, 2009

Review of 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. 11 Birthdays. Scholastic Press, 2009.

Amanda and Leo, born on the same day in the same hospital, have celebrated their birthdays together every year – but at their 10th birthday party, Amanda overhears Leo saying some mean things about her to his friends. Amanda is so hurt that she runs home, throws a potted apple tree that she had planted with Leo out the window, and then doesn’t talk to him for a year.

Now it’s the day of their 11th birthday, a Friday. It’s a normal sort of day – Amanda has a pop quiz, she reluctantly tries out for the cheerleading team (freezing when it comes time to do her backflip), and has a rather miserable birthday party that evening (most of the kids go to Leo’s party instead). But then – she wakes up next morning and it’s Friday again, the day repeating itself just like the day before. And then the next morning is also Friday, and the next, and the next. And it’s not only Amanda this is happening too, but Leo as well.

It turns out that the reason for this strange situation lies in an old feud between their great-great-grandparents. Also involved is a mysterious old lady with a strange birthmark, who was at the hospital when Leo and Amanda were born and who keeps popping up in odd places. A good deal of the plot involves Leo and Amanda tracking down the mystery so that they can finally get to Saturday, but for me the real pleasure of this book comes when Amanda relaxes into the predictability of her ever-repeating Fridays and, bit by bit, experiments with changing and improving the day.

There are obvious parallels with Groundhog Day, but unlike that movie, this story never goes over the top. Even after they realize that they can do whatever they want and there will be no consequences the “next” day, Amanda and Leo never do anything wilder than ditch school, borrow scooters from a neighbor, and go off to the mall – and they are so horrified by the worried and furious reactions of their families, even though the condemnation only lasts one evening, that they don’t even consider such a thing again. I thought that Amanda would, a la Groundhog Day, practice her backflip over and over every day and then perform it perfectly. She does finally perform it, but not very well, and only because she has achieved some confidence, not actual mastery.

The kids’ reactions to an extraordinary situation are absolutely authentic; except for a movie moment when Amanda, at Leo’s urging, enters the try-outs for a rock band’s vacant drummer position, I never questioned the kids’ decisions or thought processes, which is very refreshing. We don’t get to know anyone other than Leo and Amanda very well, and all the parents are absolutely nebulous. This is Amanda's story, however - a light-hearted look at how making little changes in one's approach to life can have big - and unexpected - effects.
Recommended not just for fans of contemporary fantasy but for kids who like stories about friends – for grades 4 – 6.

1 comment:

  1. what did leo and amanda find when they returned t the Historical Society