Let's Pretend We Never MetHot
But when Mattie meets her next-door neighbor and classmate, she begins to think maybe she was silly to fear being the “new girl.” Agnes is like no one Mattie has ever met—she’s curious, hilarious, smart, and makes up the best games. If winter break is anything to go by, the rest of the school year should be a breeze.
Mattie is not thrilled to have to move from North Carolina to Phildelphia over winter break, even though it means being near her beloved grandmother, Maeve. Her father is working long hours at his new job, her mother can't find work, and she has to start a new school. One bright spot is her neighbor, Agnes, who is a little quirky but very exuberant and fun. When school starts, Agnes misses the first three days back to care for an abandoned baby bird. Mattie is relieved, and is able to make new friends, including the cute Finn, who is very attentive and sweet. Once Agnes returns to school, all of Mattie's fears about her are confirmed. She's odd, and the other students stay away from her. They aren't too mean (with the exception of Marissa, who's having a hard time of her own), but Mattie realizes that if she admits to being friends with Agnes, she might lose her friendship with Shari. As her grandmother's condition worsens and the family prepares to move her out of her house, it is even more important to Mattie that her school situation is stable. Besides, Agnes gets annoying even to Mattie. Will she be able to keep her friends if she admits that Agnes is sometimes fun to have around?
The other children at school are also almost too good to be true, but do serve as an excellent but realistic example of how children should behave. Once Mattie explains to them a little about Agnes, they accept her. Agnes is never identified as being on the autism spectrum, but her character descriptions certainly read that way. She is described as having a social disorder that includes anxiety, and she has no filters when it comes to her clothing or speech. Her mother's parenting is a little suspect (she allows Agnes to miss a lot of school and stay home to be watched over by the apartment building doormen!), but this is at least questioned by Mattie's mother.
Maeve is a great literary grandmother, and even though it's clear that she is in the beginning stages of dementia, the matter is handled in a positive way. Maeve eventually agrees to go into an assisted living facility and treats it as an "adventure" while still admitting that leaving her home makes her sad. This is a great example for children to see. The family faces every day adversity by working together to find positive solutions. This is played out in the case of the mother's unemployment as well. The mother doesn't hide the fact that finding jobs is difficult from Mattie, but also is optimistic about her chances and doesn't give up.
Upbeat, realistic fiction with a sympathetic character is always popular with tween readers. Readers who like Lowry's Anastasia or Nixon's Alice series will enjoy meeting Mattie, and comparable stand alone titles inclue Hurwitz's Callie Be Gold, Vernick's Water Balloon, Messner's The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and Shang's The Great Wall of Lucy Wu.