Hyperion Books CH
This is a difficult book for me to review. Clocking in at 400 pages it's much longer than any other MG I've read and for a good portion of the novel the story seems to move incredibly slowly. At first, thanks to the length and pacing, I wasn't sure I'd even finish the book. And then, as I got nearer the end, I wasn't sure I'd review it. Generally, I'm able to go into a book without bias, but it wasn't the case with Mission Unpopular. Margot's relationship with her new friend, the seemingly carefree and sophisticated Em, reminded me so much of a friendship I used to have (unfortunately I was much older than Margot) and this made it difficult to sympathize with Em's character. It also made me sad that Margot continually made excuses for her. I say this not to whine about my own issues, but just so you know that there's a bit of bias in this review that I wish weren't there.
This book reminded me in so many was of the incredible nonfiction book Odd Girl Out as it was essentially all about junior high female friendships and changing peer groups. Margot, whose wish to be a part of the popular crowd has led her to make some at-best questionable decisions (like stealing a ham, for instance), is devastated when her best friend Erika has to switch schools. She's not sure how she's going to handle mean/popular girl Sarah J. without her best friend at her side. The mortification Margot feels over everything from her hair to her clothes was palpable and brought me right back to my own junior high days and how confidence-crushing the smallest thing can be. When full-of-confidence Em comes along, boasting good clothes and the fact that she's from New York, Margot latches on to her -- especially after she sees her standing up to Sarah J., something Margot herself is to terrified to do.
While it made sense why Margot wanted so badly to become friends with Em, it was almost painful to read as Em continually lied to the people around her, including Margot, and used made a lot of excuses for the ways she treated others. There's a definite atmosphere of mean girls here, between Margot and Em vs. the more popular girls, especially Sarah J., who Em vows to make cry. This is definitely a very true-to-life book, which is why I think Margot's transformation from unpopular-but-sweet into Em's right-hand girl was a little unsettling. There are a few events toward the end of the book -- one in particular -- that I almost couldn't believe I was reading. While these events made sense in the scope of the story, I had a hard time making them fit with Margot's character.
Subplots in this book include Margot's relationship with her mother, who remarried years earlier and now has toddler triplets that Margot often has to babysit. As you might expect, I absolutely loved this family aspect of the book. Margot's complicated feelings toward her sisters and stepdad were right on target and there was the added element of her dealing with looking different from the rest of her family since she's half-Indian on her dad's side. I think that this part of the book was balanced really well with the real heft of the plot: Margot's friendship problems.
Mission Unpopular is definitely a well-written and true-to-life novel, but the length and pacing (especially in the beginning) made it difficult to keep my interest. There are a few extremely attention-getting things that happen in this book, but many of them are in the last fourth of the novel. If I were younger (the books target demographic), I don't think I would have kept reading long enough for it to get interesting. As it is I almost didn't finish the book.