cover image The Secret Circle

The Secret Circle

Dona Schenker, Schenker. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-679-88989-2

""I have no friends, Jamie McClure thought, and now Pearlie Wu is dead."" After this dramatic first line, middle grade readers may be expecting more than this competently written but rather predictable novel delivers. Sixth grader Jamie has two problems: her mother has enrolled her in a snooty private school and her adult neighbor and sole confidante, the gregarious, fun-loving Pearlie, has suddenly died. Jamie finds an unexpected friend in classmate Zoe, who lives above a funeral home, but their relationship becomes complicated by Zoe's participation in a club (The Secret Circle) that requires absolute loyalty from its members. At the same time, Jamie becomes acquainted with Pearlie's eccentric, introverted widower, Mr. Graves, who tricks Jamie and her six-year-old brother into helping him with his beekeeping. In the book's final chapters, the two disparate plot strands entwine when Kai, the leader of the club, demands that Jamie betray Mr. Graves in order to join. Though the majority of her secondary characters are drawn from central casting, Schenker (Fearsome Hero) creates a sympathetic, believably brave protagonist in Jamie, a heroine who does the right thing without coming off as a Goody Two-shoes. Ages 8-10. (Oct.)