cover image It's Not Easy Being Bad

It's Not Easy Being Bad

Cynthia Voigt. Atheneum Books, $16 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82473-9

In the third novel about Mikey and Margalo, heroines of Bad Girls and Bad, Badder, Baddest, Newbery Medalist Voigt demonstrates that, indeed, it's not easy being bad: Mikey and Margalo, now in junior high, are working overtime at their schemes and plots and machinations. Unfortunately, Voigt seems to be having difficulty, too: despite many scathingly witty moments and sharp insights here, elements of the story feel trumped up. Previously unfettered by their peers' opinions, Mikey and Margalo are forced to reconsider their maverick behavior when they enter the brave new world of seventh grade. As Margalo puts it, ""It's not really being popular I want. I just want not to be unpopular."" But when Mikey's ill-considered plan to ingratiate herself with the popular crowd backfires, both girls are out for revenge. A sample: Margalo takes to heartily greeting Rhonda, a ringleader of the popular girls, by calling her ""Barbie""; when Rhonda is flirting with an eighth-grade boy, Margalo humiliates her with, ""And I see you brought Ken to school with you today."" Voigt, however, starts striking false notes. Margalo, for example, is now billed as clever at fashion, able to assemble fantastic looks from thrift-store shopping, but the author lacks the girly-girl enthusiasm of, say, a Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or a Caroline Cooney to credibly integrate Margalo's sudden stylishness into the story line. Readers will know the attention to clothes is akin to a gun in Act One of a play, and sure enough, Margalo's prize thrift-store purchase turns out to be a popular girl's mom's discard. While more intelligent than most similarly themed middle-grade fiction, this Mikey and Margalo installment doesn't stand up to its predecessors. Ages 9-13. (Nov.)