Thank you @kidlitexchange and Jenny Lundquist for providing me with a copy of these books to read and review. All opinions are my own.
There are times when you want to just become friends with the characters in the books that you read. Or maybe that’s just me. The girls in the “Izzy Malone” series are so realistic and true to life that I just want to crawl into these books and never let them stop. A great addition to the middle grade books out there, the main point of these books is to show tweens that life is complicated, that we need our friends to help us sort things out, and that we need to be true to ourselves and who we are inside. I’m in my 40s and still trying to figure some of that out!
The series begins with The Charming Life of Izzy Malone. Izzy Malone is in 6th grade and feels like she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t want to talk about boys, clothes and make-up; she would rather talk to the stars and be out on the water with her kayak. She has her own fashion style that many people don’t understand. She desperately wants to be on the rowing club, but can’t seem to make it into that clique. Her older sister is a prodigy musician and can do no wrong while Izzy finds herself routinely at the principal’s office. She even feels like she has to make an effort for her own mother’s attention. After her latest trip to the office, her parents decide she needs to be sent to charm school.
Izzy is sent to Mrs. Whippie’s Earn Your Charm School. It isn’t your typical etiquette class and that’s what makes it so perfect. Izzy is sent letters with tasks that she needs to perform in order to get charms for a charm bracelet. She struggles with the tasks, but ultimately accomplishes them. However, there are a number of hiccups along the way. The important thing is that each time she accomplishes a task, she also writes a letter back to Mrs. Whippie which are rather therapeutic for her. She also starts making some real friends.
The pen pal aspect and the charms continue in The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby. Violet pulls at your heart strings. In the first book we learned that Violet’s mother died a little more than a year ago from cancer. So while Izzy was trying to find herself in the chaos of life and dealing with issues of jealousy towards her sister and neglect from her mother, Violet has a completely different set of issues to tackle.
As this book starts, everyone is getting ready for Christmas. It will be Violet’s second Christmas without her mother, but now she has a new step-mother and step-siblings. She has to negotiate how to make her new family work and how she fits in. But her mother left her a letter before she died which also included a Christmas checklist of things to do so that the holiday would not be a sad period of her life and to help her move on.
One thing that Violet had learned from her mother was that if she didn’t have something nice to say, she just shouldn’t say anything. Unfortunately, that has wound up leaving Violet unable to discuss important matters with her friends. She struggles with thinking that they don’t understand what she is going through and has negative emotions towards the fact that they complain about their own mothers while she is suffering. When her therapist suggests that she write things out, even as a letter that she never sends, she gets the inspiration to write to her mother – an act that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
While she is trying to navigate her new step-family, she is also dealing with her first crush. She keeps her crush and the relationship as a whole secret from her friends as well because she fears what they will think. Throughout this episode, Lundquist manages to illustrate the challenges that we all face when new relationships come into our lives. Fortunately, in the end, Violet realizes how important Izzy, Sophia, and Daisy are in her life.
What is really special about both of these books is that they are told from the perspective of the individual character and feel incredibly true to their voices. At the same time, no one exists in a void, and Lundquist does an excellent job letting the other characters’ shine through and impact the main character. Both girls have a lot of issues that they need to deal with and are allowed the space within the book to make mistakes and find solutions. This is a marvelous series and I look forward to reading more!