Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Second Life of Abigail Walker

Sixth grader Abby she feels lucky when a group of "medium popular" girls take her into their group after her best friend moves away.  However, Abby quickly realizes that she is on the bottom of their social ladder, always teetering between being in and being shut out.  The fact that Abby is slightly overweight gives them fuel to constantly taunt her.  When she decides one day that she has had enough of their cruelty, Abby walks away from the clique.  Though turning her back on the girls results in even more bullying, Abby's life improves as she starts to meet much more interesting people.

First, two Indian-American boys invite Abby to join them at lunch, and she is pleasantly surprised by their easy friendship. Then she meets Anders, a home-schooled boy who lives on a small horse farm with his grandmother and father.  Anders' father is badly emotionally scarred from recently serving two tours of duty in Iraq and needs psychiatric care. As he waits for an opening at a veteran's hospital, he spends his days collecting information about the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Abby is fascinated by the family and returns to the farm daily. Wanting to help Anders' father heal, she agrees to assist with a his research.  As she becomes involved in the project, Abby finds unexpected friendship and a sense of purpose that ultimately leads to happiness.

As she did in Dovey Coe, Frances O'Roark Dowell has again created an honest, funny, and lovable heroine.  You can't help but feel Abby's pain as she faces her tormentors and cheer for her when she finds her own strength.  Dowell's short novel shows that it is possible, though not easy, to walk away from bullying and find new friends, which is an incredibly powerful message for middle school readers.

4 out of 5 stars
Recommended for grades 5-6

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