The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell
This is realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy that delivers a powerful message about being yourself, standing up to bullies, and not conforming to fit in with the popular crowd. Abby is in sixth grade and is neither popular nor unpopular. She sits at lunchtime with what she calls the “medium” girls – not the most popular, but not the least – but she is growing tired of their constant chatter about their looks and their comments about her weight. Abby is a bit chubby, but she is fine with herself. After one comment too many, Abby walks away from the medium girls at lunchtime, thereby earning their wrath and making her the target of their bullying. She meets a boy who invites her to sit with him at lunch and she makes friends with him and another boy who sits with them. Abby is much happier with these friends, who she can talk to and be herself. Abby’s parents are getting on her about her weight also, and she is getting frustrated and angry at people not accepting her for who she is, even her own family. One day, she spies a fox in the field across from her house. The fox bites her and the bite seems to lead Abby to a new beginning. She walks to a part of her neighborhood she has never been before, where she meets 8-year-old Anders, who lives with his grandmother, father, and dog across a creek. Ander’s father, Matt, is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Iraq and so things are difficult for the home-schooled boy and his grandmother. Abby begins spending more time with Anders and his family, helping Matt with a writing project that soothes his PTSD. Helping with this project allows her to help someone else. It also takes her to the computer lab at school, where she makes another new friend, giving her yet more strength to stand up to her tormentors. Abby doesn’t fight back, but just moves on, finding friends who like and accept her, and eventually the mean girls ostracize themselves more and more from their group until they are the outsiders. The fox’s story is also followed in alternating chapters told from her point-of-view, which lends the fantasy to the book. We discover that the fox has a connection to Matt as she learns to find her way in difficult circumstances just as Abby and Matt do.
This is a book of depth, which realistically portrays the cruelty of pre-teen girls towards one another and how parents don’t always understand their pre-teens, even when they have good intentions. Abby is a wonderful character, brave and proud of who she is, finding her true self, while maintaining her self-respect and making a happy existence for herself.