A light-hearted middle grade school story that will make readers laugh while simultaneously prompting them to think about a wide range of issues from environmental protection to gender imbalance.
Twelve year old Euphemia Kostas (known as Effie) admits she’s loud, has a tendency to make trouble when things aren’t fair, and is a bit over enthusiastic when trying to bring about change. Effie plans to become Prime Minister when she grows up and she’s starting her political career with a crusade to improve life for all students at Highworth Grange (including improved recycling, a buddy scheme for new students so they don’t feel alone, and a girl’s football team). There’s just one problem – she may have underestimated the challenges associated with running a campaign and getting elected, especially given she’s decided to stand against the school’s super-popular Aaron Davis for the position of Junior Class President.
Told in first person from Effie’s viewpoint, I initially found it hard to empathise with this book’s main character. While I found Effie’s observations of her new teacher (Miss Sardana) very amusing, I found Effie’s over-enthusiasm both exhausting and more than a little irritating. Indeed, I was much more inclined to join Effie’s new classmates in giggling and rolling my eyes. This is, of course, exactly the reaction that author, Laura Wood, intends us to have. I don’t think we’re supposed to warm to Effie until we get to know her better and understand where she is coming from. Once we do, we are routing for Effie to make friends and to win over the school.
Although set in the UK, the overall set up of her school, Highworth Grange, has a slightly ‘American’ feel with the students organising the school dance, running their own student newspaper and holding elections for Junior and Senior Class Presidents.
On the surface, the characters also fit the stereotypes often associated with American school movies. Effie is the classic outsider surrounded by a campaign team of misfits. This is in stark contract to her rival (and current) Junior Class President who, in a USA setting, would be the classic ‘jock’. (Aaron is outstanding at sports, always in the centre of the group of popular kids, and his interest in being Class President extends only as far as his lunch pass that allows him to skip the queue.) These character stereotypes are, however, perverted when you look deeper. Effie’s small circle of friends each have their own talents and personalities and it’s particularly refreshing to find a more diverse and representative group than traditional children’s fiction. Aaron also turns out to have considerably more brains and sensitivity than first appears.
While I like the character development, the biggest strength of this book is undoubtedly the storytelling and the situations the characters find themselves in. Foremost amongst these is the incident that leads Effie to challenge Aaron in the first place – an argument over a piece of chocolate cake! There are many more, most of which effectively use humour to raise a whole series of political issues from environmental protection to gender imbalance. While this will hopefully ignite an interest in these subjects in young readers, at no point to we feel preached to. Instead we simply assimilate Effie’s position and by the time we reach her rallying speech in the climax we are silently (or not so silently) cheering her on.
I’m struggling to think of another middle grade story with a political slant so, if you enjoyed this, I’m going to recommend you read Laura Wood’s debut school series which starts with Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse.
Publication Date: January 2019
Author’s Website: Laura Wood