Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress Book Poster Image
Moving story of early adolescent changes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.


A girl punches another in the nose.


Electronics, doll, snack, fast food, soda, cookie, candy, clothing store brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke, a reference to smoking dope, a discussion of medical marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's little of concern here -- a discussion of medical marijuana and some brands are mentioned.

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Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2008

This Book Was Amazing!!

I absolutly love this book! It was amazing! It perfectly described what it was like to be in middle school and to drop from the top to the bottom of the social... Continue reading

What's the story?

Brett is a good kid, a good soccer player, and a good friend to Diane. But seemingly in a single night, as a result of a dumb phone prank, all that changes. Brett is suspended, then kicked off the soccer team, and Diane is no longer her friend. How the world sees Brett, and how she sees herself, is changing by the day. The one constant in her life has been her beloved, eccentric grandmother -- but now she seems tired and is having a lot of medical tests.

Is it any good?

One way or another, this is everyone's story. We change, everything changes, in the tunnel of middle school, and how we handle those changes determines who we are when we emerge at the other end. Brett has a precipitating incident, a phone prank, but the changes were coming a long time before then, and would have come no matter what. The pleasure of the story is watching her deal with them, so the novel rises or falls on her character. Fortunately, first-time novelist Maria Padian knows how to sketch a character -- strong, bold, smart-alecky Brett is a delight, and when she stands up for her principles, and for her geeky friends, readers will laugh and cheer.

But there are many other pleasures here as well. The small-town Maine setting is vivid, especially the summer shack on an island off the coast. The secondary characters are wonderful, most notably Brett's grandmother, who likes to build things like potato bazookas out of junk; her reliable slob of a boyfriend, Mr. Beady; and Brett's friend Michael, an appealing geek in the gifted class. Each of them is facing changes of his own, and, in moments both comic and tragic, each rises nobly to the occasion in ways that deepen and enrich them -- and the reader.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about middle school change. Have you changed? Have your friends? Do you see yourself and them differently? Why do you suppose that is? Are the changes Brett goes through ultimately good for her? Is that true of most middle school changes? Why or why not?

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