Doesn’t this cover practically shout, “Read this book and you will have fun!”? (And you haven’t even seen the back of it, which is the exact same image except the kid holding the balloon bunch is a boy). 11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass, is every bit as sunny and sweet as the cover promises. It is the perfect tween book, and it has convinced me that Wendy Mass sure knows how to create a plot with real pull.
Amanda and Leo have known each other since the day they were born. They were born on the same day, in the same birthing centre and ever since then, they have been best friends. The two have spent every birthday together, and they are about to turn eleven. This year, for the first time, they will be apart. That’s because of something Leo did at last year’s party, something that Amanda just cannot forgive. The two have not spoken for a year and when Amanda wakes up on her birthday, she can’t help but wish things were different. As it turns out, her special day leaves a lot to be desired, and Amanda is more than happy when it’s all over. There’s just one problem. This birthday is not going anywhere, because when Amanda wakes up, she discovers that it is her birthday again, and she has to relive every imperfect moment. Why is Amanda stuck in this freaky loop, and how will she break out of it? 11 Birthdays is a charming look at how to repair a friendship, take risks, and save yourself from the worst birthday party ever.
Mass does a fantastic job creating believable tween kids, who speak and think the way kids at this age actually speak and think. This is not a simple achievement. So often the characters in kids’ books sound about 5 years older than they are. I spend a lot of time with 11 year olds, and I found Amanda and Leo to be perfectly convincing 11 year olds, from their voices to their interests and concerns. Of course, the concept for the book is wonderfully appealing. Can’t you just imagine the book-talk? The kids would be fighting each other for the book, just to see how it all turned out, and to find out why the time loop was happening to begin with. I wondered how Mass was going to explain it and make it work out in the end, and I think she was able to do so without losing the realistic tone of the story. There’s a little bit of magic involved, but just a shade, which felt just right, kind of whimsical. The book also offers a great boy-girl friendship, without the least bit of romance, another way in which the story was true-to-life for this age group.
This is a winner, confirming Wendy Mass as a writer who knows how to write stories with depth, cracker plots, and tons of kid appeal.
11 Birthdays is published by Scholastic.