Recommended for ages 9-12
Claire’s best friend, Bess, moves away just before the start of fifth grade, leaving her the only girl in her entire elementary school. To make matters worse, her other best friend, Henry, has just decided to stop talking to her, and replaced her with Webby (aka Webster), a colossal jerk! How is Claire going to get through this school year?
Told in letters from Claire to Bess, The Only Girl in School is a quick, fun read about growing up, friendship, and the hunt for pirate treasure. Claire is a funny and sympathetic protagonist, whether she’s lamenting the loss of the girl’s locker room, now the coach’s private office (“he probably likes having an office with his own shower in it”) or asking “Yucky” Gilbert – who has a tremendous crush on her – to crew for her for the upcoming boat race (“…the first and most important rule is: No Slobbering”). It’s a story about change: friendships change; being on the verge of leaving elementary school for middle school; and approaching the way boys and girls see one another. It’s also about how adults may treat boys versus girls, especially when there’s only one girl in an entire school: when there’s only one female voice, injustices, no matter how seemingly small, are overlooked a lot more easily, whether it’s removing a locker room where Claire can change or ignoring aggressive and chauvinistic behavior on a soccer field.
I like Claire: she’s smart, she’s athletic, and she’s spunky. She calls out unfair attitudes and behavior when she sees and experiences it, even if it’s happening in her own dining room. She isn’t going to let anyone get to her or make her feel badly for being the only girl in her school. She misses her best friends, but she doesn’t mope around school. She draws pictures on the wall in her “clubhouse” at school to journal her feelings but when her sanctum is invaded by someone who’s defacing her pictures, she takes it upon herself to act and launches an investigation. She’s a fun heroine, and the fact that she can inject snarky humor into her story should resonate with tweens.
The Only Girl in School is a fun middle-grade read and open the doors for interesting discussions about gender relations. Ask boys and girls alike to read it, and see what the different feedback sounds like. Read along with The Last Boy at St. Edith’s and compare the two main characters’ situations!