cover image Bad, Badder, Baddest

Bad, Badder, Baddest

Cynthia Voigt. Scholastic, $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-590-60136-8

Voigt, who commendably refuses to repeat herself, veers away from the classroom-only setting of Bad Girls in this less successful sequel. This time she concentrates on domestic dramas, chiefly the breakup of Mikey's parents' marriage and heroines Mikey and Margalo's carefully laid schemes to keep Mikey's family together. In moving from tough-edged comedy to more tender concerns, Voigt occasionally stumbles. The novel is at first too talky, almost brittle; sixth-graders Mikey and Margalo are less convincing than before in their combination of cunning and youthful ingenuousness; at least one character, Mikey's mother, skates dangerously close to stereotype, while another, a truly no-good ""bad girl,"" is similarly hard to believe in; and, highly unusual for this author, clunky symbolism mars the denouement. But even so, the novel is rounder and far more absorbing than most middle-grade fare. Margalo's and Mikey's intelligence glitters--rarely are heroines so charismatic--and their special genius is cannily presented in such a way as to encourage the reader to grapple with its subtleties. Mikey's reactions to the impending divorce will be familiar to many, as will her methods for changing her parents' minds (i.e., acting preternaturally good; running away from home). What's unusual is the uncompromising honesty with which these developments unfold. Voigt softens almost nothing; instead, she fortifies readers by respecting their abilities to recognize emotional truths. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)