The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower

This one — by Lisa Graff, whose group blog, The Longstockings, I’ve followed for a while — had me on the edge of my seat. Not really out of suspense, though; it was mostly because I was anxious. Anxious for Bernetta, anxious because the story is pretty over-the-top, anxious because the situations made me anxious. I had to put down the book every once in a while and just get up and walk around (or go do something else), just so I could get away from the story. But I would find myself thinking about it, almost instantly, and end up back in a chair with the book until I got too anxious again.

I’m not even sure if anxious is the right word. Concerned? Worried? Stressed? Nope… it’s anxious.

The plot is simple: Bernetta Wallflower, at the end of her sixth-grade year, is framed by her ex-best friend Ashley, for running a school-wide cheating ring. Bernetta is grounded (for life or until her tonsils grow back), suspended, and has her scholarship to Mt. Olive private school revoked. Which means, she has the summer to come up with the tuition: $9000. It seems impossible until she meets Gabe, who uses Bernetta’s talent for doing magic tricks to help with his plan to “raise” money.

In spite of my anxiousness, I really liked this book. It was very funny — never talking down, always smart — and the while the plot is way over-the-top (I mean really, is this even plausible? Really?), I was happy to go along for the ride. Bernetta is a charming character, one that I could easily identify (who hasn’t been framed for something they didn’t do, even if it isn’t a cheating ring?) and sympathize with. I loved her family — including her very nice older sister Elsa to her silly younger brother Colin — and even enjoyed the relationship Bernetta formed with Gabe.

And even the ending fit the book, which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting either a grand set up with a grand fall, or something more out of the movies. What I got was a simple, effective ending that was true to Bernetta’s character without losing anything from the tone of the book. Graff found a way to make the whole con business just reasonable enough without making it too appealing, which isn’t an easy task.

Now, if I could just shake the anxious feeling….

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel. Thank you.)

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