Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review: The Cybil War by Betsy Byars (1981)

The Cybil War is an Apple paperback published in 1981. The story is that of an elementary school love triangle wherein best friends Simon and Tony fight to win the affections of their classmate, Cybil Ackerman. Simon has been in love with Cybil since she was kind to him after his father moved out, but Tony, a notorious liar who isn't even allowed to attend his own sister's birthday party, is in it more for the competition. Cybil herself is more than worth the fight - she's smart and generous and compassionate, and possesses an inexplicable ability to rise above the antics of her classmates, even when they aim to hurt her feelings. Though the right choice for Cybil is pretty clear early on, it's still fun following the story to its satisfying conclusion.
I think this book captures the feelings of early crushes in a very innocent and pure way. There is no real romance in this book; rather, the love Simon feels for Cybil is a very noble form of admiration where he regards her with awe more than anything else. There are some references to dating, which, even 20 years ago, was not something that happened among elementary school kids I knew. There was some "going out" but that usually just meant holding hands and spending recess together, not going to the movies, as they do in this book. The storyline matches up better with sit-coms about school life than it does with real life. Maybe kids went on dates in 1981, but it seems like it happened much more in pop culture than in reality. The book also includes a pet show, which is definitely the kind of thing I think kids dream of having, even if they never actually do it. I can still imagine that piece of the story taking place in a contemporary book.

Because this book is by Betsy Byars, I expected it to be well-written, and I was not disappointed. I was also pleasantly surprised when I realized the book is still in print and available as an e-book! It's one of the few books about love that can appeal to boys or girls - and maybe even more to boys, given the male friendship at the center of the plot. The cover could use an update, but otherwise, I think the story is a perfect choice for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders who are taking their first tentative steps toward finding love.

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