cover image Gator Aid

Gator Aid

Jane Cutler. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32502-2

Wittily and winningly, Mills's often poignant comedy focuses on one of the boys from her Losers, Inc. While his best friend has found his strengths, Julius Zimmerman still feels doomed to failure. It's summer vacation, and Julius's ambitious mom is determined to use the time to ""set a good foundation for seventh grade."" She has enrolled him in an intensive French language course for the mornings, arranged an afternoon job baby-sitting a three-year-old tyrant named Edison and also obliges him to keep a weekly ""goal-setting"" journal. Befuddled in French class, terrified that he'll have to change a dirty diaper, Julius has a familiar, sinking feeling: ""Disappointing his mother was the one thing Julius was good at."" Mills strikes a delicate balance. Her humorously constructed scenes of classroom antics, baby-sitting triumphs and disasters, and unspoken domestic conflicts are both touching and peppered with laugh-out-loud apercus. Fans of the companion novel will be intrigued by the familiar characters glimpsed through an alternate viewpoint, and newcomers will join them in rooting for Julius as he finds his stride. Although the ending is a little bit neat, this novel as a whole rings satisfyingly true. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)