cover image Gracies Girl

Gracies Girl

Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82249-0

At the onset of her sixth-grade year, narrator Bess's campaign to be ""cool"" includes reinventing her wardrobe around some funky vintage clothes. It's while sifting through such items in a thrift shop that she first meets Gracie, a homeless woman, and later, while helping serve Sunday dinner at a homeless shelter (at her parents' insistence), Bess sees her again. Gracie inspires Bess to rethink her priorities (""It made me kind of sick to think about her sleeping outside someplace, her big, old shoes poking into the sidewalk""); she becomes less concerned with her own social status as she searches for a way to keep Gracie fed and sheltered. In this bittersweet novel, Wittlinger (Hard Love; What's in a Name) offers a convincing look at a middle schooler's awakening to social problems in her community. Although readers may sympathize with Gracie, they will likely relate more to Bess and her day-to-day trials: getting snubbed by the popular crowd, finding out the boy she likes is more interested in her best friend and fighting for the attention of her charity-minded parents. Unfortunately, the book's strong political statement tends to overpower the subtler, equally relevant message regarding Bess's internal maturation. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)