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The Ashwater Experiment
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What's the story?
Pretending she is part of an alien experiment helps Hillary adjust to life in the town of Ashwater, and then she relaxes enough to taste the joys of friendship for the first time. Twelve-year-old Hillary, a loner whose family frequently moves, is realistically and sympathetically presented.
Is it any good?
Hillary's way of coping -- creating a fantasy experiment -- allows her to maintain an emotional distance from her own life, and to make some pretty sharp observations of both her parents and peers. She is quickly able to get beyond the stereotypes of the popular girl and the angry outsider to see the complex humanity in each.
Hillary's alien-observation fantasy may be off-putting for some readers, though she clearly abandons the pretense by story's end. When she tells her new friend Cass about it and asks, "Do you think I was crazy?" Cass responds, "No. I think you were lonely"--the perfect response from an understanding friend.