This book explores the pitfalls of “popularity,” along with the folly of judging people by their looks, clothing, or the rumors spread about them. It also examines the many faces of bullying—all on a vibrant level that most elementary-aged children should be able to connect with.
Mya Tibbs is a spirited, well-meaning 4th-grader with a cowgirl obsession and a knack for tall tales. When a promise accidentally broken lands her on the bad side of her new super-popular “best friend,” the whole school begins calling her “Mya Tibbs Fibs.” As if being friendless and insultingly nicknamed weren’t enough, she also ends up stuck as Spirit Week partners with the school bully. At first, Mya thinks she’d be willing to do just about anything to get her friends back. But the more she tries to make amends, the more trouble she gets herself into—and the more she begins to realize the school bully isn’t who she thought she was.
The book is written in first-person present-tense, entirely from Mya’s perspective. And in Mya we have a naively flawed but wholly likeable heroine. Allen’s prose stands out as bright, punchy, and engaging—well suited for the younger end of the Middle Grade spectrum. The character development is thoughtful and skillfully drawn; the revelations blatant without being too heavy handed.
The sibling interactions between Mya and her brainy 5th-grade brother were an excellent balance to the storytelling—not to mention winsomely authentic.
"It's my brother. His real name is Micah, but I call him Nugget because his skin is brown and his head is shaped like a chunk of chicken. He thinks I named him after a piece of gold."
It’s easy to appreciate how “Nugget” is dealing with essentially the same things as Mya for most of the book--making the same socially-motivated mistakes in his own way. But while Mya is critical of him, she can't quite see that she's doing the same thing. (Personal Note: My goddaughters used to do this all of the time, and it was hard to gently point out the hypocrisy in a way they could grasp. I see this book as being tremendously helpful in addressing such things.)
The bullying theme struck a particularly valuable chord. The author chose to dodge the physical side and gave a careful look at the kind of conniving, manipulative, and controlling behaviors that most well-adjusted children will eventually encounter in certain conscience-lacking peers. As a result, this book has the potential to be used as a tool to aid children in identifying and coping with social malignancy rather than falling prey to it.
This reader would have preferred more depth to the physical descriptions, especially in the adults we’re introduced to along the way. I also wish the stakes for Mya had been a touch higher (as her primary motivation for winning VIP tickets to the festival seemed to center around free food--although, it did up the conflict between the girls who had more specific reasons for wanting to win.)
Overall this was a worthwhile read, and one I would gladly recommend.