Girl of the Year 2020: Joss

Published: 2020. Author: Erin Falligant. Illustrator: Maike Plenske.


Jocelyn "Joss" Elizabeth Kendrick is an active fourth grader, zooming from skate boarding to surfing, never letting the fact that she's hard-of-hearing get in the way. After all, as the saying goes, Deaf people can do anything hearing people can--except hear. Joss was born deaf in her left ear and with partial hearing in her right, amplified by a hearing aid. Hasn't stopped her in the least, though; Joss has been surfing at Huntington Beach since she was six, with her two older brothers, impulsive Dylan (now 14) and aspiring pro-surfer Liam (18).

When Joss's best friend Sofia shows her an advertisement for a surfing video competition featuring Joss's surfing hero, Tina Heart, the two "Surf Sisters" start planning their entry right away. They need to showcase what they love about their favorite surf spot, with an eye on conservationism. Maybe Joss can learn do to a frontside air for the video--Tina Heart first did it when she was ten, so why shouldn't Joss be able to? Liam thinks she just might be able to learn it in time! But Sofia's phone's camera isn't up to the task of filming from a distance. Joss needs to ask Dylan...who will definitely want something in return. Joss happens upon just the bribe: she'll try out for the cheerleading team captained by Dylan's best friend's older sister Reina (Joss thinks of cheer as fine for some people but not her thing--she's a "real athlete") if Dylan films her and Sofia's video. He agrees.

Even though she doesn't plan to stick with the team in the off chance she makes it through tryouts, Joss is nervous. The gym where tryouts are held is an acoustic nightmare for someone who's hard-of-hearing, and the cheerleaders are practicing stunts that Joss has no idea how to do. Reina helps Joss find the coach so Joss can give her a special microphone that connects directly to Joss's hearing aid. being able to hear Coach Kara and recognizing a friendly girl from school, Brooklyn, helps Joss relax a little. She ends up on the spot when the other girls (no boys are trying out or on the team) get curious about the microphone, hearing aid, Joss's hearing loss, and how to communicate with her. Joss has fielded questions like this her whole life, so while she might not love answering them, she knows how to. One girl, Mila, seems annoyed by Joss being there, especially when Joss says she's just there to get a favor from Dylan. Even with the microphone, it's hard for Joss to follow the instructions and the beat of the music--between that and Mila's attitude, Joss definitely doesn't want to stay in cheer if she makes the team. She's a surfer, not a cheerleader.

But after a couple days of tryouts, she does make the team. And she feels stronger and more flexible--she almost lands a frontside air! Cheer is making her stronger, and between Brooklyn's friendliness and Mila's snobbishness, Joss wants to do better in it. That means three days a week away from making the video, which is due soon. Sofia is frustrated about that. Joss talks with her, setting firm guidelines and a schedule for filming the video. Sofia figures that Joss can quit cheer once the video's done (and Dylan can no longer hold it over her head), but Joss isn't so sure. Even after briefly losing her hearing aid during a practice, she wants to improve. She's made a commitment, and she wants to see it through.

But cheer is taking up more of Joss's time. It comes to the point that one Saturday when Dylan's filming Joss trying to land a frontside air, Joss doesn't pay attention and accidentally steals a wave Dylan's best friend Nico is on, crashing into him and cutting his ankle. Dylan is furious with Joss and refuses to film the video. Sofia is mad too, accusing Joss of prioritizing her one trick over Sofia's contribution (the video idea was to have Sofia make art pieces with shells and other items from the beach, then Joss to demonstrate what the art represents through surfing).

It takes a heart-to-heart with Liam to help Joss sort things out. He remind Joss that he's undeniably a surfer--but he plays volleyball, too. People can be multi-faceted. Joss can be a surfer girl, a cheerleader, and a good friend and sister. Joss and Sofia patch things up, and then agree to be a team with Dylan and Nico. Together, the four have filmed enough artwork and surf tricks to make a really good video. One more thing would make it perfect: a frontside air. Joss tries once more before they run out of time before the video deadline...and doesn't do it. She does end up combining surf tricks with cheer tricks into a pretty nice move, though, which the new team of four add to finish the video.

International Surfing Day arrives, when Tina Heart will announce the video winners. The day starts with a beach cleanup, then some surfing--Joss lands a frontside air! And then finale: Joss, Sofia, Dylan, and Nico win! Tina Heart signs their surfboards, they each win a new one, she asks Sofia if she can use some of her art to promote her environmental message, and she asks Joss to teach her the surf/cheer trick that was featured in the video. Joss is part surfer, part skateboarder, part cheerleader, part friend, part sister, part daughter--and 100% Joss.


Dedicated to "my mother, who taught me to be true to myself--one hundred percent." The author also thanks Crystal da Silva, who holds shortboard titles in Pro-Am and World Deaf championships; Dr. Sharon Pajka, English professor at Gallaudet University (which primarily serves Deaf students); Julie Peterson and Sara jo Moen, owners of Fury Athletics and coaches of highly successful competitive cheer teams; Jennifer Richardson, AuD, an educational audiologist who founded Hearing Milestones; and Bianca Valenti, profession surfer and cofounder of the Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing.

I was second in line on the hold list at the library to get this book. I wasn't able to until now because the libraries all closed for three months due to COVID19. All of Joss's competitions and activities would have been cancelled for the same reason, and communication would have been significantly harder for her: masks get in the way of lip-reading.

There are illustrations throughout the book! According to Neth at American Girl Outsider, there was a lot of disappointment about the historical character books losing their illustrations during the BeForever line, so the books have been re-issued with illustrations...but also abridged versions of the text. I guess the Powers That Be decided Girl of the Year book should have pictures, too.

International Surfing Day is indeed June 20.

Sofia is very artistic. Her surfing tends to be more graceful than aggressive, and she's forever looking for shells and rocks on the beach to make art.

Murph, the Kendrick's bulldog, is "goofy-footed, like [Joss], which means [they] push with their left feet." I know next-to-nothing about skate-boarding, but I know soccer, high jump, long jump, triple jump, hurdles, and pole vault. I'm "goofy-footed" in those, in that I use the opposite feet for kicking or jumping from most people. But I jump off my right foot...would I skate-board by pushing with my left? I can't figure out which would feel more natural.

Joss's mom grew up surfing, but her dad has never gotten the hang of it. He likes to do wood-working in his spare time.

Joss will sometimes take out her hearing aid and tune out the remaining muffled sounds for "QT" (quiet time). She finds she can focus better on visualizations and planning that way; it's a nice break.

Joss has various adaptions for her hearing loss that Deaf people I've known in real life use, too; like vibrating alarms clocks. Joss uses her cell phone, but there are alarm clocks with attachments that light up or vibrate--one of my ASL teachers had one.

There's a cool idiom sign for "wow." Hold one hand on either side of your head in the W shape (how most people indicate 3, which is actually 6 in ASL) and open your mouth in an O shape like you're amazed. Together, your hands and mouth spell W-O-W.

Here in Washington, high school cheerleading is classified as an "activity" rather than a "sport." It's certainly more athletic than golf, which is under the sport heading. I considered trying out for it in high school to gain upper body strength for pole vault, but ended up doing gymnastics instead--I got along better with the gymnastics team than the cheer team. Would I want my kids to do cheer? I would be actually be pretty reticent. Because it's an "activity" there are fewer safety regulations. If that were fixed, then I wouldn't have a problem with it.

Joss's revelation about which foot she should lead with for cheer tricks is similar to when I started high jump. I was just awful the first day of it, until my coach noticed I was jumping from my right foot instead of my left. He had me approach the bar from the opposite side, and suddenly it was much easier. When I was older and coaching jumps myself, the first thing I did with new jumpers was figure out which foot they naturally jumped from.


Ivy and Julie 1976: A Happy Balance

Released on Amazon Prime in March 2017 


Ivy's family is hosting the extended family for Chinese New Year. Julie, her mom, and sister will be coming too, and Julie volunteers to help clean the Ling home. Ivy's frustrated with trying to balance her Chinese heritage with her American life, and worries about sticking out among her peers, none of whom have her background. While she's busy preparing for the New Year celebrations, she's also getting ready for a big gymnastics meet...and then Julie points out that the meet is the same day as Chinese New Year. 

Ivy feels like she can't vent to Julie, because Julie is dealing with the tensions that come after divorce. Her sister and her dad aren't on speaking terms, and her sister is upset with Julie for going to their father's for visitation. Ivy's parents invited both Julie's mom and dad to the Chinese New Year dinner, and Julie's worried about them fighting (her family ends up being civil).

Ivy's frustrations come to a head when her parents realize the conflict of the dates. They leave it up to Ivy to decide, which is a HUGE decision for her to make on her own. Ivy's mom is worried that gymnastics will take up so much of Ivy's time that Ivy won't have anything left for her Chinese heritage, especially after Ivy skips Chinese school to go to an extra gymnastics practice. Ivy is conflicted too. A heart-to-heart with her grandparents gives her a lot to think about: feeling like an outsider, the importance of family, being proud of who she is, courage.

Back at home, Ivy decorates the home for Chinese New Year, and makes her mother's favorite Chinese dish with her grandparents' help. She decides to go to the dinner instead of the meet (they're not only the same day, but the same time), but she's still torn up about it. Her mom overhears Ivy talking to Julie about her anguish, and tells Ivy that the decision she makes has to be right for Ivy.

The next day sees Ivy at the meet...and her whole family there to watch. Ivy performs well enough to get a medal (probably qualifying for the regional meet). At a later dinner, Ivy gets compliments on her athleticism as well as her grasp of the Chinese language and how well she made some food.


I can't figure out where this was filmed.

The movie takes place in during the Chinese New Year celebration in 1976, which was Saturday, January 31 as the movie depicts. It started the year of the dragon. (As I'm writing this in 2020, we're in the year of the rat.) However, her dad says the meet and dinner are on January 30.

Ivy shares a room with her younger sister. The room is covered with pictures of gymnasts and pandas.

Julie listens to "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers, which was released in 1974.

I'm surprised that Ivy's family didn't know what day the big meet was until less than two weeks before it happens. Her mom is on a first-name basis with the coach.

The way the Ivy's balance beam performance for the big meet is cut, it looks like there's a stand-in for Ivy's actress. 


Ivy Ling - Nina Lu
Julie Albright - Hannah Nordberg
Marilyn Ling - Gwedoline Yeo
Sam Ling - Rob Yang
Andrew Ling - Lance Lim
Po-Po - Elizabeth Sung
Gung-Gung - Tzi Ma
Coach Gloria - Caitlin McGee
Auntie Yin Wa - Karen Huie
Missy Ling - Kyra Lyn
Cathy - Zane Smith


And the Tiara Goes to...

Released on Amazon Prime in November 2015 (now on YouTube)


When Julie's sister shows her a news article about the latest Miss America going to law school, Julie decides that she can try doing something outside the sporty persona she's been focusing on by entering a middle school beauty contest. After hearing some more girly girls gossip about her in the bathroom, Julie wonders if her plan to showcase basketball as her talent is appropriate. Her mom and Tracy encourage her to be herself, and give her a gold locket.

The day of the show, Julie stills feels a little out of place and nervous. But her mom, dad, and sister are in attendance to support her, as well as Ivy. Julie wears a sequined basketball outfit and showcases her ball-handling skills, including that spinning-on-the-fingers trick I can't do. The other girls backstage seem like they're going to mock her, but they're impressed. When asked what she wants to do when she grows up, Julie says she wants to be President of the United States--after college and getting started in local politics.

Julie ends up in second place, and the only girl shown not gossiping about Julie before the show wins. Ivy asks to run with Julie, to be vice president: the first female and first Chinese vice president!


Filmed in Los Angeles, CA and Ontario, Canada

This is short, about 14 minutes long. It doesn't waste time on exposition, so it's best to have read at least a few of the Julie books before watching it.

Julie doesn't hang up the phone after talking to Ivy. She just drops it by the side of her bed.

Among the other talents are baton twirling, gymnastics, piano playing and singing ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"), ballet, and tap dancing.

The other girls' ambitions: to own a clothing store, be a veterinarian, be a mother, be an accountant, run a ballet studio, be a flight attendant, and be a movie star.

After the contest, Julie's parents and sister and Ivy have dinner at Julie's mom's house, with cake for dessert. They have a giant sheet cake for the five people. I hope Ivy took some home with her!

Oh...this was released a year before the 2016 US presidential election...when Hilary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee...Julie wants to be the first woman president...


Julie Albright - Jolie Ledford
Tracy Albright - Keely Aloña
Joyce Albright - Karen Ide
Daniel Albright - Jim Jepson
Coach Manley - Matt DeNoto
Ivy - Grace Liu
Alison - Mia Moore
Amanda - Caydence Joy
Angie - Marsha Malinina
Jenny - Jordan Butler
LeeRan - Raleigh Gremillion
Krista - Natalie Bright
Twin - Noelle Hardy
Twin - Grace Hardy
TJ - Mason Hafer
Basketball boy - Lev Cameron
Basketball boy - Anthony Edwards, Jr
Basketball boy - Blake Hendricks
Basketball boy - Michael Hill
Basketball boy - Kai Johnson
Basketball boy - Eric Laguna
Basketball boy - Sean Laguna
Basketball boy - Perry Chen Norman
Basketball boy - Ife Orekoya
Primping Girl - Ashley Chen
Primping Girl - Michaela Crayton
Primping Girl - Rimea Kasprzak
Primping Girl - Savannah Liles
Basketball Boy after School - Dylan Brabant
Basketball Boy after School - Taeho K
Basketball Boy after School - Gene Minero
Teacher Backstage - Claudia Zie
Student - Calista Best
Father of Student - Patrick Breen
Student - Leilani Brosnan
Mother of Student - Sandra Brosnan
LeeRan's Sister - Berlin Gremillion
LeeRan's Mother - Shelly Gremillion
Jenny's Sister - Cherish Kim
Jenny's Brother - Courage Kim
Jenny's Sister - Destinie Kim
Jenny's Sister - Faith Kim
Jenny's Mother - Kate Kim
Father of Student - Marvin Craig
Amanda's Sister - Kate Tomlinson
Amanda's Mother - Ruth Anne Tomlinson
Alison's Sister - Janelle Wolfe
Alison's Brother - Samuel Wolfe
Alison's Mother - Maxine Wolfe


Melody 1963: Love Has to Win

Released on Amazon Prime in October 2016


Melody is caught up in the Space Race, but her grandfather's concerned with things on Earth. Protesters marching for civil rights are being unjustly arrested and even attacked. Melody struggles to understand why police, who are supposed to protect everyone, are hurting peaceful protesters. Melody wonders about the Pledge of Allegiance her class recites--"with liberty and justice for all"--but is told to not "disturb the peace" and that "good things come to those who wait." Some white boys bully her at recess. Another black student says the bullying is too much and she wants to go to her neighborhood school (presumably she's bused to this one for diversity) where she won't be a pariah.

When visiting her mother at work (she sews dresses for a clothing store), Melody is accused of trying to steal a dress, while a white girl browsing just like Melody is left alone. Her mother nearly loses her job over it. Melody's mother and grandfather voice their anger in different ways: Melody's mother mourns privately because she wants Melody to not have to grow out of her childhood innocence yet and focus on how things can get better, while her grandfather says that's what people have been saying for generations.

Melody is discouraged by the discrimination. She has a bit of hope at school when a white girl, Trish, comes over to talk to her about Melody's drawings, and invites her over to play, even after two other white girls try to talk Trish out of it.

But two days later, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama is bombed. Yes, that bombing. Four young black girls are killed. At school the next day, Melody can't keep quiet. She can't say the Pledge while the country is divided. Her teacher sends her to the principal's office, and she's suspended for a week. Her grandfather is proud of Melody for standing up for civil rights.

Melody's mother is asked by their church to play piano in a concert honoring the girls killed in Alabama. Melody is terrified that someone will bomb their church too, and doesn't want her to perform. But she overcomes fear and agrees to help, even sewing an outfit for her mother to wear while she plays. When the day of the concert arrives, Melody is stunned to see that her class has come to see the concert as a field trip (this is during Melody's suspension). It seems her outburst got to her teacher, who organized the field trip. One of the boys who bullied Melody refuses to come, but Trish takes Melody's hand and leads the rest of the class into the church, where Melody's mother plays to an integrated crowd. Melody leads the mourners in song.


Filmed in Los Angeles, CA.

Melody wants to be an astronaut now, rather than her book focus on being a singer. My parents were born about the same time as Melody, and it's understandable the Space Race would be interesting to a child in the 1960s, but why change such a big part of Melody's personality? 

Melody's father is dead here, unlike the books. Her siblings don't feature in the movie, either. Her family is also lower class, rather than middle class like the books.

Melody is left-handed in the movie.

Melody's grandfather says Melody's dad enlisted in a desegregated military. The books have him as a Tuskegee airman in World War II, and Executive Order 9981 was signed in 1948. I guess he was in the Korean War in this version instead. The picture Melody has of him shows him as a pilot. With Melody now being an only child rather than having older siblings, Korea makes more sense than World War II, age-wise. My dad is slightly older than Melody and his dad was in World War II, while my mom is slightly younger than Melody and her dad was in Korea (both my parents have older and younger siblings).

The church bombing places this movie in September of 1963.

Huh, Melody looks at a display of dolls, which are all white, seeing none like her. Something, something, American Girl dolls and diversity...

Ouch, watching this movie about civil unrest and police violence in 2020...


Melody Ellison - Marsai Martin
Frances Ellison - Idara Victor
Frank Ellison - Frankie Faison
Miss Abbot - Frances Fisher
Donald - Garret McQuaid
Lorraine - Dara Iruka
Trish - Lola Wayne Villa
Principal Davis - Matthew Foster
Sales Clerk - Briana Lane
Store Manager - Chuck McCollum
Mr. Schuler - Rocky McMurray
Neighborhood Girl - Daija Bickham
Neighborhood Girl - Skyelar Wesley
Mother in Store - Libby Ewing
Daughter in Store - Joelle Better
Mary Beth - Isabel Myers
Male Bystander - Joshua Wilkinson
Church Choir members - Errol Gillett, Caitlyn Lemle, Charles Elvin Lemle, Darene Annette McDuffey, Asani Myers, Marsha Joi Myers, Edward W. Robbins, and Rosa Ophelia Williams


Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas

Released on Amazon Prime in November 2016 (now on YouTube)


Maryellen and her siblings are running all over a department store while her mother desperately tries to find a Christmas present for her husband. Maryellen is longing for a white Christmas, especially during a December heat wave in Florida. Maryellen is tired of the same old traditions--while some people find comfort in familiarity, she wants something different. Maybe she can visit her grandparents in Georgia. At least it snows there!

The Larkin family is also preparing to host Benji, who's just recovered from polio, and his mother while Benjy has an operation to help him be able to walk better, as his polio side effects are worse than Maryellen's (Mrs. Larkin knows his mother from when they worked in a factory during WWII). To welcome them...Maryellen paints the house's front door bright red. Maryellen and her mother have a heart-to-heart while Maryellen helps clean up, about how Maryellen wants to stand out and be special, and how Maryellen's mom built planes during WWII but now is a stay-at-home mother. Can Maryellen find a way to balance family obligations and her desire to grows herself?

Late that night, Maryellen finishes painting the door red (it was streaky and patchy). She and Benji talk while paints. He's an only child, his father having died when he was little, so Maryellen's numerous siblings are quite a change for him. They also talk about Benji's upcoming operation. He's hopeful that if it works, people will stop overlooking him. Joan comes home with Jerry, and after complimenting Maryellen's art (maybe that's her special talent!), he confides that he and Joan are "pinned" (engaged to be engaged). Maryellen is sworn to secrecy, and happily agrees.

Maryellen and Davy stop by hospital to visit Benji after school. They're dismayed to see so many children will have to spend the holidays in the hospital, especially after a doctor says the hospital is focused on healing and not Christmas decorations or presents. Davy feels uncomfortable around the patients, which distresses Maryellen. After all, she had polio, too! But she's too confrontational with Davy, putting him off. That leaves Maryellen to try to plan a talent show for the children in the hospital by herself...but her siblings are annoyed that she's going off to Georgia by herself...then she lets it slip that Joan's engaged (Joan was waiting for Christmas to make the announcement).

Since she hasn't yet upset Benji, Maryellen visits him. While talking, she sketches him laughing at the jokes he loves. Benji loves the sketch--everyone thinks of him as a cripple, not any aspect of his personality. The doctor also notes how happy Benji is with the drawing. Maryellen visits the other children in the hospital, talking with them about their post-hospital plans. She also learns that the children there don't want a big celebration. Maryellen draws the children doing what they dream of after their recoveries, and Davy uses his wood-working skills to make frames. Like her mom talked about earlier, she's learning to listen to what others want, rather than what she thinks they want. She even returns her train ticket to Georgia so she can give the money to Benji, to allow him and his mother to return for rehab.

Christmas arrives, sunny and hot, but with Maryellen happy to be with her family, feeling confident that she can be her own person, and her grandparents coming for a surprise visit--with a cooler full of snow from their home!


I can't find out where this was filmed.

Mrs. Larkin's name is spelled Carolyn in the credits and pronounced that way by Mr. Larkin, but spelled Caroline in the captioning. Benji is spelled with an I in the credits and with a Y in the captioning. And Davy is spelled "Davey" in the captioning. AND the captions have "feelings" spelled as "feelin's"!

The story Mrs. Larkin tells about Jonas Salk is true--Salk refused to patent his polio vaccine to keep the cost low.

There are several mentions of the 1950s mindset that women are to be homemakers, but are capable to more as well, including Joan worrying that getting married young means she won't be able to go to college (Maryellen suggests Joan talk to Jerry about their future).

The doctor at the hospital says he's not allowed to discuss the patients' medical information. While HIPAA wasn't enacted until 1996, it's not out of the realm of possibility that hospitals had their own policies in place.

IMDB notes several anachronisms, like cars from after 1955.

Maryellen Larkin - Alyvia Alyn Lind
Kay Larkin - Mary McCormak
Joan Larkin - Madison Lawlor
Carolyn Larkin - Jessica Belkin
Mr. Larkin - Gerald Downey
Beverly Larkin - Noelle E. Parker
Tom Larkin - Jax Daniel Morgan
Grandpop - Paul Linke
Grandmom - Mary Linda Phillips
Davy Fenstermacher - Maxwell Acee Donovan
Benji - Samuel Faraci
Jerry Ross - Alex MacNicoll
Paul - Sean Leo
Polio Kid - Jethro Posz
Doctor - Kurt Fuller


Boy-Crazy Stacey (GN#7)

Original Publication Date: 2019

Ghostwriter? No, the text copyright is for Ann M. Martin.

Illustrator: Gale Galligan


Not a ton of difference between this and the original version. Three things that stood out to me: Mary Anne wears a more modest two-piece swimsuit than Stacey but doesn't seem embarrassed that Stacey's is more mature, Stacey doesn't ask what the secret sauce is at Burger Garden, and Claire brings a sun-burnt Mary Anne peanut butter "because it's yummy" rather than butter which avoids the poor medical advice about putting butter on burns.

Established or continued in this book:

The Girls (and Logan):

Stacey's diabetes explained in picture form:

Kristy's new room:

Mary Anne's sun protection get-up:

Claudia candy: She's hardly in the book, but there is a one drawing of her eating from a bag of chips.

Their Families:

The Pike kids:

The beach house:

The Club (and clients): nothing new, aside from a different artist's take on the Pikes

SMS: summer vacation!

PSA Time: I'm glad this version took out the part about butter being good for burns--it's not!


Martin dedicates this book to "June and Ward Cleaver (alias Noel and Steve) from the Beav."

Galligan dedicates it to "Mom, Dad, Lori, and all our childhood beach adventures. And [to] Patrick, who I forgive for pretending to be a sea monster and grabbing my ankle that one time."

What Stacey packs for the trip:

Stacey in LUV:

The beach at Sea City:

Burger Garden:

Stacey and Mary Anne's double date with Alex (shorter hair) and Toby:

Logan Like Mary Anne! is slated for a graphic novel release. I doubt we'll get all the books, because already they've skipped Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls and The Ghost at Dawn's House (two of my favorites), but wouldn't it be great to get the Super Specials?


Girl of the Year 2019: Blaire Cooks up a Plan

Published: 2019. Author: Jennifer Castle. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Blaire's enjoying the start of fifth grade, thinking hard about a service project (all fifth graders at her school get involved in this way). She's soon presented with a bit of a distraction: Marco Gonzalez, the host of one of her favorite shows, Room Revolutions, stopped by out of the blue to see the renovated barn, which he learned about from the magazine spread. And he ends up staying a few nights at the Wilsons' inn! He even invites Blaire and Thea (there for a sleepover) to the set of this latest project--and she gets to be on camera for part of the show (with her parents' permission)!

It isn't long before Blaire gets inspiration for her service project. It starts with donating clothes she and her brother outgrew, which is how she starts talking to Beckett's classmate Abby, about how Abby doesn't like vegetables, which gets her thinking of recipes that present vegetables in kid-friendly ways, which ends up teaching her that some families can't reliably get all the ingredients for her recipes (or food in general), which inspires her to organize her class into making healthy food kids will enjoy to donate the to food bank. But, as is common with Blaire, she doesn't quite think things through. For example, she volunteers the restaurant kitchen and ingredients from the farm without asking her parents, and doesn't know where or how to buy enough jars to keep the food in. Her parents do want Blaire to be able to see her project through, so they help her plan it out--with restrictions and limits.

Soon, Blaire has donations and a schedule sorted out. She need her classmates on board to help, though, and she's especially hoping that the new student, Eli, will cooperate. He's standoffish, but Blaire thinks that's just because he's not used to the school yet. She wants to help him feel welcomed. She's thrilled that not only is her whole class excited for her idea, but that Eli signs up to help as well. Blaire seems to have learned her lesson from the summer too; she over-commits herself one day but realizes her mistake and politely declines another commitment and is able to fully enjoy having her classmates over to harvest ingredients for the pasta sauce they're going to make a donate. Eli is there, and gets along fantastically with Beckett and Abby. The following day (Monday) Eli brings in brownies for his birthday, and quietly mentions to Blaire that they're dairy-free...and that he'll join the class that night to make the sauce. Seems he's settling in!

But when the class is busy prepping and cooking, Eli spends part of the time filming instead of helping. And he wanders by the stove where Blaire's mom is working, and as Blaire tries to get him out of the way, some of the sauce spills. Blaire is extra upset that they run out of jars before Abby can get one--if Eli hadn't been in the way, they could have had enough!

Marco reminds Blaire that even a little bit can help, and can inspire bigger things. After all, seventy-six people still got nutritious, filling, homemade food.The point really gets hammered home a few days later when Eli shows what he was filming: a video good enough to look professionally edited that ends with a call for donations to the food bank (the whole class absolutely loves it). Blaire talks things over with Eli, who reveals that his father recently died. They used to make videos together, and this is the first one Eli's made since his father got sick. It seems to have helped Eli in his grieving process. After talking and understanding each other better, Blaire and Eli are friends.

Eli's video sparks something else: Eli shares it, with the proper permissions, and donations start pouring in. The family moving into the home Marco is renovating sees it too, and wants to jump right into being part of their new community...by sponsoring a kitchen renovation at the foodbank that Marco will spearhead. Volunteers will be able to cook food there (food donations have to be from professional-level kitchens) and the food bank can offer cooking classes to help people learn efficient ways to use their food. And it all started with a chain reaction stemming from donating old clothes.


Dedicated to "my grandmother Sadye Garonzik, who showed me what it means to make a difference."

The first Blaire book was dedicated to a Sadie (and a Clea). The author has two daughters; if Sadie is one of them or another family member, I wonder if she's named for the author's grandmother.

Before Blaire donates some of her favorite-but-too-small clothes, she takes pictures of them to remember them by. That's a good solution to getting over the conflict of giving away something you enjoyed but can't use anymore.

A lot of school buses nowadays have video monitoring. Kids can report an issue to the driver (who has to pay attention to a lot of things and might not see every problem with the students) and then the video can be reviewed and appropriate disciplinary action taken.

There are a few recipes at the back of the book.


Girl of the Year 2019: Blaire

Published: 2019. Author: Jennifer Castle. Illustrator: Suzanne LaGasa


Life on the Wilsons' Pleasant View Farm in upstate New York is hectic: it's a farm-to-table restaurant and bed-and-breakfast inn that just recently began hosting weddings. But Blaire wouldn't have it any other way. She loves having people around and making them happy by providing excellent customer service and even better homemade food. What she doesn't like is her new dietary restrictions: Blaire was just diagnosed with lactose intolerance, and it's severe enough that lactaid-type pills don't work, and no amount of dairy, even in baked goods, is safe. She's definitely not used to the new precautions she had to abide by. Her best friend Thea is thoughtful enough to get Blaire a dairy-free cupcake at Thea's birthday party so Blaire isn't left out of the celebration, but Blaire feels too conspicuous eating a separate dessert and having to explain why to everyone. And her younger brother Beckett is taking Blaire's place as taste-tester for their mom's new recipes, which stings.

Blaire is grateful for things to keep herself busy so she doesn't get stuck moping. A few baby goats and helping the farm manager's boyfriend plan a surprise marriage proposal are just the ticket. And after the farm manager, Cat, says yes to her boyfriend, Gabe, there's a wedding to plan! Especially since they really want to get married in eight weeks (Cat's brother, Lorenzo, is going to deploy with the Marines, and she's always planned on Lorenzo walking her down the aisle since their father died). That means the barn needs to be ready by then--and Cat thinks hosting such a happy even as Cat's wedding will convince her maternal grandfather that hosting weddings is a good idea for the family business. Cat's like another grandchild to him.

Cat and Gabe are happy to have Blaire help with the planning, but she soon discovers she might in over her head when Gabe's mother (his father and Cat's both parents have passed away; Cat's brother is her only living family), communicating over email, assumes she's a professional, not to mention adult, event planner. Fortunately for Blaire the misunderstanding is cleared up before it gets to be too big of an issue. Still, caring for the goats and lambs and chickens, planning a wedding, renovating the barn, and being a junior bridesmaid...it's a lot for a pre-teen. Especially when Cat wants a rustic theme and her soon-to-be-mother-in-law is hoping for more fancy. But it's enough to come up with excuses to not go on her usual summer outings with her friends--the ones that have too many things she can't enjoy anymore, like ice cream.

Blaire does such a good job avoiding reminders of her lactose intolerance that she doesn't even know Thea gets the part of a dance duet at the fair (she knows Thea is dancing there, but not so big a part) and misses some of the performance responding to texts about Cat's search for a wedding dress. Thea finally lets out her frustration with Blaire, pointing out how Blaire is always searching her phone or tablet for wedding ideas while their friendship atrophies. For her part, Blaire is upset that Thea keeps bringing up Blaire's intolerance. She already knows what she can't eat, she doesn't need Thea talking about it all the time. But all that pales in comparison to the next fight...

Blaire and Cat are talking when Gabe comes in with the announcement that his mother contacted Empire State Wedding magazine and it wants to do a spread on their wedding. Blaire's parents agree it would be fantastic publicity for the wedding. But no one talked to Cat about it. Her desire for a more rustic wedding was already getting steamrolled, and now wedding reporters will be judging her wedding? She declares she and Gabe are on a break--and the wedding is off.

It's time for some disaster control. Blaire talks with her grandfather, who encourages her to go discuss the fight with Thea--in person, not over text. They make up, and quickly write up a fake play script that they insist Cat and Gabe help them with. As the two adults humor them and read the lines, they soften a bit and make up. The wedding's back on--with Cat and Gabe in charge of how it will go, and just one reporter from the magazine (Cat and Gabe's way of saying thank you to Blaire's parents for hosting the wedding). Gabe's mother is still eager to help, and finds a way to do so without making it her vision of a wedding. And Blaire even gets back into cooking again. She still can't eat everything on the menu, but there are things she can eat, and it's nice to not feel sick now that she avoid dairy. Plus, she can still be happy that the wedding guests will enjoy what she's made. Soon, it's the big day. There's a slight hiccup when some chickens get into the barn just before the reception, but Blaire thinks quickly, grabbing Beckett's bowtie and a bit of tulle from her bouquet, and dresses to chickens as a bride and groom. The magazine reporter loves it--fantastic publicity. The wedding goes perfectly.


Dedicated to "Sadie and Clea, who make every day delicious."

I wish the book had started a month or so earlier, with Blaire discovering her lactose intolerance. Would have been interesting to see that in "real time" with the testing and diagnosis. Although that would probably work better with a dietary restriction that doesn't have so many gastrointestinal issues...hives or something would be more reader-friendly!

Before asking someone to marry you, you really should have discussed the idea together first. Marriage sort of requires cooperation from everyone who's going to be involved in it, after all. It's best if the question itself isn't a surprise, just details like the time and place.

It's brief, but there's a good bit about online safety and privacy issues. Good message for the intended age group for this book.

From the description, it sounds like Blaire and Gabe's mom use Pinterest to organize their wedding plans.

There are screenshot-type images of text chats with Blaire and her friends. It is so weird to see emojis in an American Girl book! Obviously it makes sense with this being set in present times, but since I more often read the books set decades or centuries ago...

Some people with lactose intolerance can safely consume goat's milk. Blaire might not be able to do so, and her goat is male, but I'm surprised the idea isn't mentioned.