Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review: Me and Fat Glenda by Lila Perl (1972)

Me and Fat Glenda is another vintage kids' book recently resurrected by Lizzie Skurnick Books. Main character Sara moves with her unconventional parents from California to a Long Island suburb, where their free-spirited ways are decidedly not welcome. The neighbors take issue with Sara's father's backyard junk sculpture, her mother's decision to paint her bedroom ceiling black, and the family's vehicle, a used garbage truck. Glenda, an overweight girl in the neighborhood, takes an instant interest in Sara, and the two form a tentative friendship, despite warnings from their classmates that Glenda is a "squealer" and not to be trusted. As the weeks go by, however, as Sara and those around her are victimized by pranks, she begins to wonder whether Glenda has a sinister side after all.

This book is a great example of the kinds of friendship stories I loved during my upper elementary years. Sara and Glenda are both so well-developed that it is really difficult to decide the true nature of their friendship, and at times, it is easy to empathize with both girls. Perl does a nice job of creating a believable supporting cast as well, including a persnickety girl and mischievous boy who contribute their opinions to Sara's ever-changing view of Glenda. The differences between the two girls' families also nicely highlight the contrast between the conservative Long Islanders and the liberal Californians. The "there goes the neighborhood" attitude of Glenda's mother is annoyingly  true to the reaction of many suburban communities to the arrival of outsiders, and adds realism to the story.

My only disappointment with this book is that the suspenseful build-up that occurs throughout the story leads to a wholly unsatisfying ending. Halloween arrives, a few pranks are played, and then everything seems to be resolved in the minds of the characters even though it does not feel that way at all for the reader. The big "secret" about Glenda turns out to be something very minor, which doesn't match the other cruel acts that some of the characters attributed to her. It was nice to see the characters change their minds about Glenda, but I didn't see any evidence to convince the reader to suddenly trust her, which was too bad.

Me and Fat Glenda reminds me of a few other vintage books I have read, including The Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg, and Blubber by Judy Blume. It's a must-read for nostalgic adults, and it might grab the interest of middle school girls who like realistic friendship stories that keep the focus away from boys and romance.

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