The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills

Joanna Pearson. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-19773-1

How better to survive high school than by pulling back and observing it with the cool, detached eye of an anthropologist? That's junior Janice Mills's plan, though readers will soon recognize that Janice isn't nearly as objective as she believes she is. For Janice, living in the small North Carolina town of Melva is an opportunity to engage in the kind of cultural analysis practiced by such heroes as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. As Janice puts it, "Melva is a town of biscuit-eating sports enthusiasts who smile, pray, and sing the national anthem while the town seems to be crumbling under everyone's feet." But there's a thin line between honesty and cruelty, and her judgments and assumptions are starting to cause trouble. Debut novelist Pearson has created a wonderfully insecure protagonist in Janice, one as uncomfortable in her own skin as she is in just about any social situation ("I believed in hiding my hopeless innocence behind scorn whenever possible"). Janice's path to increased self-knowledge and empathy—through the unlikeliest of avenues, the annual Miss Livermush pageant—is rewarding, honest, and quite funny. Ages 14–up. (July)
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