Girl of the Year 2015: Grace

Author: Mary Casanova
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Grace Thomas lives with her parents and older brother Josh in Massachusetts, near her maternal grandparents' bakery. Grace, her grandmother, and her aunt Sophie (her mom's younger sister) all love baking and are very good at it. Grace would love to own her own bakery some day. Together with her two best friends, Ella and Maddy, she figures why not get started this very summer? The last day of school was yesterday, so there's no time like the present. They settle on dog-walking: outgoing Ella already has a dog that needs a daily walk, and shy-and-intelligent Maddy reasons there will be little overhead, since dog owners will already have the necessary leashes and other supplies.

But then Grace's mom gets a call from her sister: Grace's aunt is nearing the end of her pregnancy, but due to complications, is being put on bedrest until the baby comes. Grace and her mother decide to go to her home in Paris for those five or so weeks to keep Aunt Sophie and cousin Sylvie (technically step-cousin) company. Grace tells her friends to start the business without her but they say they'll wait until she returns.

In Paris, Grace is amazed by all the sights. She adores her aunt and uncle's bakery from the start. She's unsure about her cousin--she and Sylvie only met once before, about three years ago at Aunt Sophie's wedding to Uncle Bernard. Sylvie speaks about as much English as Grace does French--not a lot. And her (paternal) grandmother recently passed away, so she's dealing with that. Grace gets the impression that Sylvie doesn't want her around.

Before she can worry too much about how to interact with her cousin, Grace's aunt has her baby, a couple weeks early. It's a girl, Lilou, Lily for short. Grace thinks her baby cousin is absolutely perfect. Sylive seems enamored with her baby sister too. But it's not all bliss: Aunt Sophie had to have a c-section (the text is that the delivery required surgery and she can't lift anything for several weeks; sounds like a c-section) so she needs lots of help with Lily, who is getting fussier as she gets older. All the help the little family needs has a nice silver lining, though. Sylvie asks Uncle Bernard if Grace can join her in the bakery to help run it. Sylvie does want her cousin around!

Working in the bakery isn't easy. Grace doesn't understand enough French or of the business to do anything other than grunt work. And she does the wrong grunt work: she sweeps up the flour instead of washing the dishes (she misunderstood the gesturing one worker did), and due to an ill-timed breeze, the dirty flour blows on fresh pastries. She gets permission for a short break, but due to a combination of her embarrassment and following a stray French bulldog Sylvie had shown her earlier (petit chienne), Grace ends up lost. Sylvia and a bakery employee find her after not too long, and Grace shares a nice moment with her cousin, but she still feels awful for all the trouble she's caused. Then Grace finds out that Maddy and Ella went ahead and started the dog-walking business without her. Grace is welcome to join upon her return, but she still feels left out and almost betrayed.

A Skype chat with her father helps Grace sort out her emotions. She decides to continue trying, and by the time Bastille Day rolls around Grace is settling in nicely at the bakery and her aunt and uncle's home, and has even made friends with the stray dog, which she names Bonbon. She learns French recipes, and is able to move past the issue of the dog-walking business and talk (online) with her friends. She and Sylvie grow closer, with Sylvie enjoying her role of French teacher. Grace helps Sylvie learn English as well, and even helps her write a postcard to Grace's grandparents, Sylvie's step-grandparents. With the dog-walking business not going well, Grace and Sylvie also work together to try to come up with new business ideas. Inspired by what she's learned in Paris, Grace finally settles on a Parisian bakery.

In the midst of this, Bonbon goes missing. Grace is worried that the dog was found out by a shelter, and is in danger of being put down (neither Sylvie nor the bakery employees are able to take the dog in). She tries to put her worries out of her mind as the trip nears its end; she wants to enjoy her time with Sylvie as much as possible. On the last day before the flight home (and during the country-wide vacation most French take in August), Grace and her extended family see some final sights, including Sacre-Couer (an absolutely beautiful church, made of white stone...try to go at noon, when the nuns sing the Angelus). The day ends with a trip to a...farm? Where a big secret is revealed: Grace's mom and aunt found Bonbon, got her checked out by a vet, and cleared her for travel to the US. Grace gets to take the dog home with her!

Glossary of French Words

Bah, this book doesn't have any sort of appendix beyond a tiny French-English dictionary.


Dedicated to Capucine.

Like others, I've noticed the lack of diversity in the latest American Girl offerings, especially when you have characters in settings where non-whites are common and they could have been a minority with probably few if any changes to the story (e.g.; Saige in New Mexico could have been Hispanic, and Isabelle in Washington, D.C. could have been African-American, and McKenna could have been Asian pretty easily without that being a stretch; the Seattle area has a lot of people of Asian descent). This blog is more about summarizing the books than delving into the politics of them, so I won't go into that much. Others have done it better than I could anyway; checking some of my recommended blogs or a Google search will show those. But it does seem like some diversity is overdue, if not for more lofty reasons of inclusiveness, than at least marketing strategies of giving the fan base the wider range of ethnicities it's asking for. There are some groups that haven't been represented at all: it would be really nice to see a girl of Middle Eastern descent in a post-9/11 world.

There's a short story called "Grace and Sylvie: A Recipe for Family" that depicts this book from Sylvie's point of view, but I'm unable to find it so far.

Grace's mom is training for a half-marathon. And waited twenty minutes or more (enough time for Grace to mix ingredients for muffins and bake some) before showering after a run...I like to get clean faster than that.

Adding lemon zest to blueberry muffins (Grace's "secret ingredient") isn't that outlandish of an idea.

The picture of Grace on the book's cover looks a lot like my youngest god-sister when she was a young teenager.

Grace's mom is an elementary school teacher and also likes to make metal sculptures. Grace's dad is a therapist and enjoys landscaping. Grace's fourteen-year-old brother is really into fixing things.

I've been to Paris very briefly, for a week in the spring of 2000. In my experience, Grace's advice to be polite works very well for getting along with Parisians. I knew a tiny bit of French, including a very polite way to ask for things ("J'aimerais __ s'il vous plait." or "I would like ___ please") and everyone I spoke with was willing to at least try to help me. My dad got along well using the Latin he remembered from high school.

Grace appears to be at least a casual fan of the New England Patriots...the team my Seahawks lost to in the Superbowl. Oh well. The Seahawks played hard, and Butler (Patriots player) made an amazing interception to stop what would have been the game-winning touchdown, Can't fault him for doing well, even if it was a play by my favorite Seahawk (Jermaine Kearse) that set up that touchdown attempt. As much as I would have loved to see my team get back-to-back Superbowl Championships, taking second place after the terrible seasons of the team's younger years isn't too bad.

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