cover image Deep Down Popular

Deep Down Popular

Phoebe Stone, . . Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-439-80245-1

This feel-good tale about the social pecking order of tweens in rural Virginia has likable characters and a positive message, but its persistent down-home twanginess gets downright annoying at times. Jessie Lou Ferguson, a poem-writing tomboy who chops off hunks of her hair when she's piqued, secretly adores Conrad Parker Smith, the “it” boy of Cabanash County Elementary. Conrad's popularity unconvincingly plummets when he injures his leg, throwing Jessie and Conrad together. A lackluster mystery provides reason for Jessie and Conrad, plus an amusing sidekick named Quentin, to meet each day for a new adventure. Though the pervasive theme of popularity and the idea that “keeping on the right side of the crowd can be tricky and unpredictable” may resonate with readers familiar with the “in crowd,” Stone's (All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel ) characters don't seem authentic. Her sixth-grade girls are old enough to covet the attention of boys, yet still wear fairy wings to school before a party. And Jessie Lou's small-town Southernness (“I hauled off with a nice big old pair of scissors and cut my hair practically down to the bone.... so short, you couldn't spit on it”) comes close to cliché. Add a sluggish pace and readers may find that, like the muddy banks of the Cabanash River, this book is hard to plow through. Ages 9-12. (Mar. )