Carolyn Marsden, . . Candlewick, $13.99 (73pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1569-7

Zeroing in on a very specific situation, first-time author Marsden hits the issues of this age group squarely and truthfully. Fourth grader Oy, a Thai-American student new to a predominantly Mexican-American school, struggles to fit in with the popular clique of girls led by Liliandra. When Liliandra knocks into Oy and a picture of the heroine in a ceremonial Thai dress flutters from her backpack, the trouble begins (" 'Oooooh, pretty,' said the girls following Liliandra. 'Like a princess' "). The ringleader applies peer pressure until Oy agrees to smuggle the prized dress to school, in order to earn membership in Liliandra's club. Disaster results. Despite the brevity of the novel, Marsden plants details showing the importance of respect for position and education in Oy's home. So when the club initiation rite backfires, the consequences reach much further in Oy's mind than a reprimand at school. A touching friendship also develops with a boy who begins as a bully but softens when he sees Oy's predicament (it turns out he has some Asian heritage as well). The heroine's ultimate decision to take the high road results in a deeper understanding of her parents, including their shared experience as outsiders ("Remember, little daughter," her mother says, "The children are interested in this dress not because it makes them look the same, but because it makes them look different"). Ages 7-9. (Mar.)