Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Richard Jones
Summer's wrapping up. Chrissa, Gwen, and Sonali have had a great time getting to know each other the last few months, spending lots of time swimming in a nearby lake. While back-to-school shopping, Chrissa sees Tara, who acts uncharacteristically friendly and even sort of apologizes for the previous school year. She says she wants to be friend. Sonali doesn't believe Tara for a second, and Gwen is skeptical too. When an unknown number sends a mocking text message about Chrissa, Sonali says it must be from Tara. But there's no proof, and Tara seems genuinely nice at swim team tryouts. Maybe she deserves a second chance.
Tryouts go well: Chrissa and Sonali make the diving team (so does Chrissa's brother, and Tara and Jadyn). Gwen will the manager for the dive team, and hears the coach saying that Chrissa might be good enough to swim on a relay team. But then cruel messages get posted on the team's online board. Sonali is accused of having a contagious disease that can be spread through water. Chrissa still maintains that they don't know Tara is behind the messages. Gwen and Sonali can't believe Chrissa doesn't see the truth when she knows first-hand how mean Tara can be, and say they need a break from Chrissa for a while to cool off. With no one else to turn to, Chrissa calls up Tara, taking her up on her offer of friendship.
Tara comes over a couple days later, just in time to see the newborn baby llama. The two girls have a fun time swimming, although Chrissa finds herself snapping at her brother more than usual--is Tara poisoning her like Sonali thought she might? Later that evening, Sonali calls and Chrissa mentions that Tara came over and was nice. Sonali is hurt that Tara saw the baby llama first. And the next day there are more malicious emails and board postings about Gwen and Sonali. Sonali points out that there's nothing about Chrissa, and that she knows Tara can be persuasive. Chrissa confronts Tara directly, and she denies any part in any of the messages. The next day there's one about Chrissa.
Then something worse happens. Chrissa and Tara are grousing about how much Chrissa's brother brags, and Tara decides to play a joke. She climbs up to the diving board where Tyler is, despite Chrissa's protests. It culminates in Tyler hitting his head on the board and falling unconscious into the water. At the hospital, Chrissa and her parents learn he has a concussion, but no fractures or spinal injuries. He's released from the hospital the next day. Chrissa apologizes for being so short with him lately, and they agree that they're not only siblings; they're friends too.
That same day, Chrissa's parents tell them some recent developments. Because Chrissa didn't call for the coach as soon as she saw Tara on the diving board and instead also climbed up, she's suspended for two weeks (so is Tara). Jadyn's parents are tech experts, and they've uncovered the person behind the messages: Jadyn herself. Chrissa and her parents are invited over so Jadyn can apologize. She sent the text messages because she was trying to get Sonali back, and then posted the other messages trying to keep Tara from drifting away. Jadyn ends up suspended from the team as well.
Gwen and Sonali approach Chrissa at the next swim practice, which she has to watch from the sidelines (Jadyn isn't even allowed to come). Tara's with her, and they apologize for suspecting her of sending the messages. Tara says she can see why they did, and apologizes for her own behavior. The four girls might all get along in the end. A short time later, the school holds a meeting to discuss bullying and how to fight it. Chrissa sees Jadyn for the first time since the apology then, and extends an olive branch. The book closes with Chrissa, Gwen, Sonali, Tara, and Jadyn all playing cards with Tyler and his best friend.
Real Girls, Real Letters
"Not Laughing" is encouraged that being different doesn't mean being wrong or bad, and that she should talk to a responsible adult about the harsh teasing she's enduring, agreeing with her that ignoring or laughing it off doesn't work. "Bored But Can't Admit It" is told that it's okay to politely decline invitations to play even with close friends, and advised that she and the friend who it's no longer fun to hang out with can investigate new activities together. "Divided" is told not to let her old friends decide whether she can make new friends. "Confused" is advised to give her relationship with her good friend a breather since they've been fighting, and maybe they'll be closer later, but it is possible they've outgrown the friendship. "Wondering" has her concerns confirmed that her supposed best friend is actually trying to control her, and no friend at all. "Sorry" is advised to follow her heart and apologize for being mean to a former friend, with the understanding that they might never make up, but at least she'll have finally done the right thing.
Dedicated to "my daughter, Kate, who continues to inspire and teach me."
Special thanks are given to Patti Kelsey Criswell, MSW; Dr. Micahel Obsatz, and Susan Kovacs.