A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a mature book. Cameron and Jenna both had lonely lives as children, and endured a horrific event when Cameron's father tried to bully them into playing a sex game. When Cameron reappears in Jenna's life, Jenna begins binge eating and shoplifting again. Cameron, too, has unresolved issues, and is currently living without a home or family. Jenna's stepfather also catches them in bed together. Beyond that, there is also some light swearing, drinking, and kissing.
What's the story?
Jenna Vaughn used to be named Jennifer Harris. She was fat, dirty, and often home alone. At school, she -- and her only friend Cameron -- used to get picked on by their school's mean kids. After Cameron moves away (and, according to the kids at school, dies in an accident), she decides to transform into someone new: a pretty, skinny, happy girl whom everyone likes. But will Jenna be able to keep her unhappy past from resurfacing when years later Cameron moves back to town?
Is it any good?
This is a dark book. Even readers drawn to the carefully crafted story here may be overwhelmed by the mature problems Jenna and Cameron deal with here. Between them they face bullies, homelessness, abuse, shoplifting, binge eating, and more -- Jenna even grows up believing Cameron is dead. The several flashbacks to that fateful day when Cameron's abusive father tries to get the kids to play a sex game is likewise both well drawn and creepy.
Jenna's ability to start dealing with the past -- and become the person she wants to be -- is heroic. And it's convincing, too, thanks to a realistically imperfect cast of secondary characters, especially Jenna's mother. In the end, this is a book for mature readers only, but those who are ready will be moved by this story of Jenna and Cameron's intense attachment. And they will appreciate that Jenna not only accepts herself for who she truly is, but learns to see the strengths she has had all along.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about reinvention. Can you think of other books and movies in which a character goes from nerdy to popular (think even as far back as Cinderella)? Why are we fascinated with this idea in our culture? How do these stories usually end? How is Jenna a different sort of ugly duckling?