cover image How I Survived Being a Girl

How I Survived Being a Girl

Wendelin Van Draanen. HarperCollins, $15.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-06-026671-4

In this energetic first novel, saucy, opinionated sixth-grader Carolyn narrates her exploits as, over the course of a summer, she spies on her ""freeko"" neighbors, digs foxholes in the yard, hurls dirt clods at her brother and steals a book from the local dimestore. Either this version of suburbia is set in an undefined past, or it's something of a throwback-girls have to wear dresses to school, and only boys are allowed to have paper routes. Carolyn chafes at the restrictions placed on her until she finds a way to get around them: she wears shorts under her skirts and helps her brother deliver the Daily News. As the sticky, childish pursuits of summer give way to the music lessons and classroom politics of September, Carolyn finds herself attracted to Charlie, her foxhole-digging companion, and begins to tackle injustices by drawing up petitions and speaking her mind, rather than by tagging after her brothers. When, at the end of the book, a baby sister is born, Carolyn feels a deep connection. She whispers her philosophies to the infant: ""I tell her... how being a girl is actually all right once you figure out that you should break some of the rules instead of just living with them."" A sunny, funny look at a girl with a smart mouth and scabby knees. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)