cover image Visiting Miss Caples

Visiting Miss Caples

Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Dial Books, $17.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2502-7

While Kimmel's new novel does not have quite the draw of the layered mystery of her debut (In the Stone Circle), she adds a few innovative twists to the age-old conflict between winning popularity and doing the right thing. Eighth-grader narrator Jen has been best friends with Liv since they were small children, but ever since Liv has ""clearly established herself as the leader"" of middle school, Jen has been playing the role of her follower. Liv goes one step too far when she asks Jen to play a cruel trick on an unpopular girl at school. When Jen refuses, Liv turns all the girls in their crowd against her. The sting of rejection hits Jen at a time when she is plagued by other worries: her parents' impending divorce and her struggles with a school project (reading to an elderly shut-in, Miss Caples, once a week). After making a few feeble attempts at sharing segments of the Reader's Digest with Miss Caples, Jen opens up to her about her problems and, predictably, is rewarded with a great deal of understanding and sympathy. Unfortunately, the intermittent chapters that chronicle Miss Caples's thoughts seem less realistic, with a prevailing angry tone. As Jen's bond with Miss Caples strengthens, so does the teen's relationship with her mother and the unpopular girl at school, whom Liv has been tormenting. If the end of the story is pat, Jen's inner growth is convincing. Drawing a parallel between Miss Caples's past woes and Jen's current angst, the author conveys the universality of growing pains while promoting intergenerational communication. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)