Gertie's Leap to Greatness
FSG, 2016 249 pgs
Gertie is has an important mission: to become the greatest fifth grader in the entire universe. This mission is the result of her estranged mother's impending move from her small southern hometown. If she became the "best" than her mother would love her and want her as a daughter. Gertie lives with her doting father, who is often away at his job on an oil rig, and her great-aunt Rae, whose no-nonsense, yet nurturing parenting has provided Gertie with a loving and secure home. A first day of school presentation with a zombie-frog looks like it will seal Gertie's success, but a surprise awaits her. A new girl from Hollywood moves to town and is put in Gertie's class. Mary Sue's father is a director and she knows the most famous teen actress, insuring her immediate popularity and squelching Gertie's chance of stardom. Gertie pulls out all of the stops to surpass Mary Sue in both popularity and success with disastrous results. She manages to alienate practically the whole class, loosing long-time friends in the process, and even offending the pain-in-the-neck little girl that Aunt Rae babysits. Gertie and Mary Sue go toe-to-toe in an audition for the lead in the school play. Gertie gets what she wants and it looks like she may achieve her mission after all. A surprise visit to mother leaves her with more doubts than ever and then a bad choice at school puts her in the dog house. All works out for the best by the end and some relationships are restored, yet not exactly in the way Gertie was aiming for.
Beasley introduces the latest feisty girl character in the tradition of Ramona and Clementine, although for a slightly older audience. Gertie tries hard to get things right, but always just misses. Sometimes the results of her failed efforts are hilarious and sometimes they are heartbreaking. Kids will relate to her eagerness to gain control over her world and applaud her spunk and determination to this end. Why is it that when a parent is unable to provide nurturing to a child, that is the parent's love that the child craves the most? Gertie is surrounded by loving and supportive adults, yet craves a relationship with her mother. Gertie's mother, for reasons we never know, is unable to mother her spirited offspring and Beasley does not offer a magical solution. Instead, Gertie learns to come to terms with the failed relationship and to appreciate the functional folks she does have in her life. Some of Gertie's choices and mishaps had me a bit on edge and the book was not as funny as it appears to be. Much like Ramona, Gertie's impulses and real-life situations are heart-breaking, but she learns from her mistakes and grows from these experiences. Gertie's teacher is especially understanding when the youngster messes up big-time and kids will learn that teachers are human too and care about all of their students equally, even when it feels like they like some more than others. Black and white illustrations, contributed by Jilian Tamaki, are well done and are interspersed throughout the book, yet not in every chapter. The book is for an older audience than the picture on the cover indicates and the subject matter is more serious than the description would lead readers to believe. Its a book with hidden depth that explores the confusing trials and tribulations of growing up.