June 26, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Rebel McKenzie [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Candice Ransom [Website]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Published: June 26th, 2012 by Hyperion Book CH
Format: Kindle edition; 288 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
From the Field Notebook of Rebel McKenzie
Once upon a time there was a poor paleontologist girl. She didn’t have any money to go on digs so she went to work for her evil older sister in the hottest trailer park kingdom in Virginia.
Every day Paleontella would fix special meals for pickey Prince Rudy. She made beds and swept floors and washed dirty underpants and scrubbed pots and pans and fed the pet Andrewsarchus. She rearranged the gravel in the driveway and polished the whole trailer with toilet paper. And every day her evil older sister went out into the world to learn how to be beautiful. (Only it wasn’t working.)
One day Paleontella was so tired she sat down and cried. All of a sudden her Fairy Mastodon appeared!
“I will grant you one wish,” her Fairy Mastodon said.
“Oh! I’d love to go on a dig!” said Paleontella. “But my evil older sister gives me too much work.”
“Well, she’s not aruond, is she?” The Fairy Mastadon waved her magic tusk and said, “Go! But be back before sundown.”
“What will happen if I don’t?” Paleontella asked fearfully.
“Your evil oder sister will come home from learning how to be beautiful and beat the crap out of you.”
“I’ll be back! Thank you, Fairy Mastodon! You’ve made me the happiest poor paleontologist girl in the whole trailer park kingdom!”
Rebel McKenzie is (practically) a paleontologist (the Ice Age kind, not the dinosaur kind). Her biggest dream is to attend a dig camp this summer where she will have the opportunity to hone her skills, but alas, the family fridge broke down and funds were unavailable. No problem, she decides she’ll just runaway from home to attend. Unfortunately for Rebel, she doesn’t make it very far…just far enough to destroy her feet, lose a bet to a convict, be grounded till she’s 50, and land herself a no-pay live-in babysitting gig for her seven year old nephew in her sister’s new (used) trailer. A definite kink in the works, but Rebel knows she’ll be able to go to the later session of the dig if she can come up with the money to pay for it herself, and she has the perfect plan–she just has to win the local beauty pageant.
Give any character a love of blueberry Slurpees and Necco wafers, and you’ve more or less guaranteed them a place in my heart. Throw in a perchance for non-fiction, a love of digging up dead things, and the most ridiculous cat to ever grace the pages of contemporary fiction, and you have yourself one sealed deal.
Rebel McKenzie is one of the most real 12 year olds I’ve read about in some time. She’s oblivious to her faults, more than willing to point out other’s, selfish, and a bit short sighted. That said, she’s also good at noticing stuff, has super hearing, is confident, ambitious, and determined to get what she wants from life. She’s stuck living with her big sister for the summer, taking care of Rudy while her sister attends beauty school. There, Rebel recruits the bullying neighbor Lacey Jane to compete in the pageant with her, more than happy to use her as a fake and convenient friend to get her through.
The relationships in Rebel McKenzie were so reflective of many kids’ realities that I couldn’t help but enjoy them. Rebel and her sister fight like sisters and have real issues, but still obviously love one another very much. To me, Rebel’s family life was so ‘normal’, it’s actually kind of odd to encounter in a book. Normal other than Doublewide, that is. The Wonder Cat who rings the doorbell, pees in the toilet, has a favorite T.V. program, and eats pudding. Rebel uses and abuses those around her, but strangely enough, I still liked her. I loved that she was a girl so into non-fiction she determined the best ‘talent’ she possessed was a dramatic recounting of the affect of tar pits on animal populations. I loved that she was so steadfast on a bargain, that she’s determined to make good on a $20 bet to Skeeter, an inmate who turned her in to the authorities as she tried to run away to attend paleontology camp. Most of all I think I loved that she was far from perfect, but she wasn’t a wreck either–just your regular 12 year old kid.
While Rebel McKenzie does slap you a bit with the ‘big message’ at the end of the story, it’s not too overly saturated, and I feel it’d be easy for a lot of young readers to consume Rebel’s story without ever noticing her youthful hypocrisies, such would they relate to her. She thinks of Lacey Jane as a bully towards her nephew, but when Lacey Jane’s snark is aimed at someone Rebel doesn’t like she finds her hilarious. She uses Lacey Jane as a friend knowing what it’s like to be used, without ever realizing that maybe she in fact has something real with this other girl. She finds others who talk about themselves incredibly boring, but she herself is the height of entertainment because her interests are astoundingly cool, such as mammoths and burp talking. Even her sister portrays this same self-denial when she constantly complains about how spoiled Rebel is, while simultaneously spoiling Rudy beyond reason.
I was pleasantly surprised that the plot, while driven by the beauty pageant, isn’t completely engrossed in it. This isn’t one of those ‘snarky girl enters pageant and then learns there’s really something to it’ stories, instead, Rebel McKenzie is a story of family, friendship, and the ridiculous. I enjoyed it very much while reading, though I’ll admit I’m uncertain that this is one that will stick with me.
Rebel McKenzie is a heartfelt, hilarious, and at times downright informative read. It’s the perfect book for those non-traditional girls who prefer nothing fancy and the cold hard facts. Definitely recommended.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I didn’t realize until after finishing Rebel McKenzie that there’s a good chance I’ve read some of Ransom’s work before as she wrote a good chuck of The Boxcar Children books! Would love to check out more stand alones though (I will say that her Goodreads page is severely lacking, check out her website for a much more complete list of works).
Recommended for: Readers who enjoyed Time Spies, The Boxcar Children, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Everything on a Waffle or are fans of MG contemporary in general.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: I learned a new little phrase and superstition: “Friday night’s dream on the Saturday told is sure to come true, be it never so old.” Has anyone heard this before? I love little things like this, like how if the first words you say in a new month are “Rabbit, rabbit” it will be a good month, or how when you gift a knife, you always include a penny, or it’s bad luck.
Get a second opinion:
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