Thursday, February 14, 2019

Book Review: Flip-Flop Girl by Katherine Paterson (1994)

When Vinnie (Lavinia) lost her father to cancer, her younger brother, Mason stopped speaking. Now Vinnie and Mason have left Washington, D.C. and, along with their mother, they have moved in with their grandmother in Brownsville, Virginia, where they are starting a new school. Though she really likes her new teacher, Vinnie struggles to fit in among her new classmates, and she finds that only Lupe, whom she nicknames the Flip-Flop Girl based on her footwear, pays any attention to her at all. As the school year gets underway, Vinnie struggles to help her brother's teachers handle his behavior, to make her teacher notice her and understand her crush on him, and to see herself as the kind of person who might be friends with an unusual girl like Lupe.

I would describe this short, descriptive novel as a cross between The Hundred Dresses and The Summer of the Swans. It shares themes in common with both of these books, and it delivers a story that addresses them succinctly, clearly, and with beautiful prose. While this book isn't as deep or layered as something like Lyddie or Bridge to Terabithia, it does reflect upon issues of grief and loss in ways that are very palatable and accessible for kids. This book isn't heart-wrenching, as the death itself has already taken place when the book begins, but instead it focuses on moving forward after the initial shock of loss has worn off, and it gives the reader a sense of hope that things will improve as time goes on.

When I mentioned to my husband that I rated Flip-Flop Girl four stars on Goodreads, he remarked that he couldn't imagine Paterson writing a book that wouldn't get four or five stars, and I tend to agree with that statement. Paterson's writing is consistently of very high quality, and she tells stories that are real, believable, and relevant. Having read her astute observations about writing children's books in Gates of Excellence and The Spying Heart, I am pleased that her fiction, so far, very much lives up to my high expectations.

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