cover image The Hard Kind of Promise

The Hard Kind of Promise

Gina Willner-Pardo, Clarion, $16 (208p) ISBN 978-0-547-24395-5

In this quiet, strongly realistic novel, Willner-Pardo (My Mom and Other Mysteries of the Universe) explores the intricacies of preadolescent social life, where the worst possible thing is to be "weird." Seventh-grader Sarah struggles between her devotion to her longtime best friend Marjorie—who is weird, and doesn't seem to care—and her new, cooler, but not as interesting friends. She loves and admires Marjorie for her idiosyncratic individuality but, acutely aware of social mores, cringes when she sees her through the eyes of other seventh-graders (Marjorie "was still wearing shirts with cartoon characters on them"). Mild and accepting on the outside, Sarah is inwardly obsessed with trying to understand how personality and popularity develop: "If you could just turn out weird for no reason, then maybe you could become weird out of the blue. The idea absolutely terrified her." Sarah matures in a believably clear-eyed manner as she explores a new friendship, discovers a talent for playing poker, and finds unexpected joy in singing in the school choir. Willner-Pardo's avoidance of overblown crises and dramatic climaxes creates a steadily paced, authentic story. Ages 10–up. (June)