My rating on Goodreads: 5 of 5 stars
Penelope, aka Peppi, is the quintessential new girl. Within a few minutes of arriving for her first day of classes at Berrybrook Middle School, she manages to fall down in front of everyone, throwing her books everywhere, and is helped up by one of the biggest science geeks in school, Jaime Thompson. Before she knows it, she is reading the room and watching, with mounting horror, the circle of mean kids who started out laughing at her for being a nervous klutz quickly switch to laughing at the nerd who dared to help her pick up her things. And in the panic of not wanting to be noticed by the resident meanies, she shoves Jaime away telling him to leave her alone.
The rules of middle school can be as harsh as the students are awkward, super unfair really, and weeks later, Peppi still finds herself agonizing over how she treated Jaime while trying to make friends and fit in. She unknowingly takes sides in an epic battle between the Art Club, where Peppi finds friends and an exciting artistic outlet, and the Science Club, where Jaime explores his passion for science and tolerates the intense competition between the other Science Club members and the Art Club across the hall.
When her science teacher, the glorious Miss Tobins, who has a rocking white streak in her hair like the Bride of Frankenstein, tells Peppi that she has set up a tutor for her in the library and that tutor is, of course, Jaime, Peppi’s humiliation is complete.
She tries and tries and tries again to work up the courage to finally apologize to Jaime, all while their tentative friendship grows through their tutoring sessions and shared projects. Then one afternoon, Peppi has a near miss bicycle accident right in front of Jaime and his mom who are taking a walk. Jaime’s mom, who is also an artist, kindly helps Peppi see a way to tell Jaime she is sorry.
Hand this to every middle school student you know. Upper elementary students will also love it. High school students will enjoy some much needed nostalgia for their middle school selves. I know I did! They will laugh, they will cringe, they will totally understand. And then they will clamor for the rest of the series! They will also totally respect the representation at the heart of this story, a multicultural school full of characters and personalities that are simultaneously unique and individual. The artwork is a fun mix of Japanese manga styling and Raina Telgemeier-esque pacing and character expressions. Realistic fiction that is funny and heartfelt, taking the sting out of Peppi and Jaime’s awkward stumbles and replacing them with kindness and friendship. Recommended for G4 and up!
More about author Svetlana Chmakova, including the other titles in the Berrybrook Middle School aka Awkward series: https://svetlania.com/