Novel: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
Author: Kate Beasley
Target Audience: Ages 8-12
Publication Year: 2016
Setting: a town in coastal Alabama; the novel has a timeless feel, but is likely set in 2010s
A Favorite Quote: “She had never before made a 99 on a test. Ever. And it made her feel like a new person, like the kind of person who could make 99s on tests.”
My One Sentence Summary: Gertie Foy is on a mission to be the greatest fifth grader at her school (and probably in the history of humankind); thereby proving to everyone—including her absentee mother—that she, Gertrude Reece Foy, matters.
What I loved about this book: Any book that uses the word “tragical” in its second sentence is guaranteed to capture my heart, and this book certainly did. Gertie reminds me of my very favorite characters from books I read as a kid. Like Anne Shirley or Ramona Quimby, Gertie just can’t seem to stay out of the most intriguing trouble and, of course, she never means to find herself in a scrape—whether she’s crashing the party she was trying to spy on or she somehow finds herself walking down the school hall with an entire bowl of chocolates she swiped from the school secretary’s desk—Gertie never intends to cause problems. It just happens. I also adored Gertie’s school play. My sister and I have a long-running inside joke about Scout’s ham costume for the pageant in To Kill A Mockingbird, so as soon as students were donning food-shaped costumes, including a ham (“‘I’m fatty and delicious,’ Roy said in a flat voice, ‘but not very nutritious.'”), I knew I was predestined to love this novel. Other things I loved included the rich cast of characters and their various, conflicting viewpoints. The children, especially, felt extremely real to me. They were not always polite, well-behaved kids. Instead, they were “fickle” and sometimes heartless—much like I remember fifth graders being when I was in fifth grade. I also loved the setting and the author’s colorful use of colloquial phrases (every morning as Gertie leaves for school, Aunt Rae tells her, “Give ’em hell, baby”). Last but not least, I loved the beautiful illustrations by Jillian Tamaki.
Themes: Resilience and a refusal to become a victim in spite of peers who bully or rejection from someone who should love you (in Gertie’s case, her mother); the importance of being yourself; accepting that everyone makes mistakes and everyone has his/her own hurts to deal with (even seat-stealing Mary Sue Spivey)
Who should read this book: This book is a wonderful recommendation for any reader who loves realistic middle grade fiction, particularly stories featuring mischief-prone protagonists. I think this is also a poignant and relatable novel for a child dealing with elementary school bullying.