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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Second Life of Abigail Walker, written by Frances O'Roark Dowell. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Her dad turned back to Abby. "Calories in, calories out. That's the formula, Ab. You have to burn more calories that you take in. That's all there is to it." Abby looked at her pizza. One-third of her slice was left. She knew it was getting cold and she should hurry up and eat it since she didn't like cold pizza, but suddenly there was a lump in her throat..."

Abby is a sixth grade student meant to be suitably admired, as you get to know her in this story of personal discovery. Kristen has been her friend; now, with Abby gaining weight and not being a 'medium' girl anymore, she and Georgia have taken to targeting Abby. Abby is not like them; sixth grade girls don't like that. As well, Abby has decided that she's not going to take it anymore. She is done with them, and walks away. As far as Kristen and her pals are concerned, that is not acceptable and they set out to make Abby's life even more miserable than it already is.

Abby is concerned but adamant. She knows that she is the only one who can control her own destiny and she sets out to do that. She makes new friends at school, and in the neighborhood. She's going to have a second life and that is all there is to it:

"Her mom called from downstairs that dinner was almost ready. Abby wondered if she would tell her about Kristen, how they weren't friends anymore. She wanted to, but she knew she probably wouldn't. Still, to be able to say, I am not friends with Kristen Gorzca, to make that declaration, it would have been like opening a door. Please come in, Abby would say to her mom. Meet the original Abigail Walker, a girl who does and says what she wants when she wants to."
Now that she has broken away from the 'medium' girls, and not too happy with the way her parents are treating her about her weight, Abby seeks comfort in others. She spends time in a vacant lot across the street from her house and exploring nearby. Near the creek she meets Anders, a young boy with some issues of his own. He lives with his grandmother on her horse farm, and with his father, a war veteran with untreated trauma from his experience in Iraq. His dad is focused on writing a poem about the animals from the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Until he can complete the poem he is sure he will not heal. He needs help with research and Abby is eager to be his research assistant.

She enlists the help of her new friends, Anoop, Jafar and Marlys. They are supportive when Abby needs them and they give her the confidence needed to be who she wants to be. Together they gather the information that is sure to help Anders' father get better. As this is happening, a fox is watching over Abby and seems to be providing needed guidance. The fox also played a role in Iraq with Anders' dad. She is a bit of fantasy in the midst of an all too real existence for this lovely and brave young girl.  

Mean girls are not unusual in middle grades; I was more appalled by Abby's father and his response to his daughter's weight problem. My heart broke when Abby discovered that he had no pictures of her in his office, stemming from the time that she began to gain weight. What kind of father would do that?

Frances O'Roark Dowell proves once more that she has her finger on the pulse of her characters, giving them life and allowing Abby to be who she wants to be without resorting to any of the antics that we see from Kristen and Georgia. She is a force to be reckoned with, and  funny, poignant and moving toward a new reality. Bravo, Abby!

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