kristen tracy

camille mcphee fell under the bus by kristen tracy


The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter

"Readers negotiating their own middle-school minefields or soaking up all the preparatory information they can find will breathlessly follow Bessica's escapades." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

When you are in middle school, it is a dumb idea to expect good things to happen to you.

After an unfortunate incident at the hair salon, Bessica's not allowed to see her best friend, Sylvie. That means she's going to start middle school a-l-o-n-e. No one to walk or eat lunch with, study or text with. Bessica feels like such a loser. She wants friends. She's just not sure how to make them. It doesn't help that her beloved grandma is off on some crazy road trip with her new boyfriend and has zero time to listen to Bessica. Or that she has a ton of homework. Or that gorgeous Noll Beck thinks she's just a kid. Or that she's made an enemy of the hall monitor. Or that there are some serious psycho-bullies in her classes.

Bessica soon realizes that you can't have everything you want in middle school . . . and if she doesn't make good choices she won't have anything. Cheerleading? Instant friends. Alt crowd? Exiled to loner town. Yearbook? Chorus? School mascot?

Bessica doesn't care about being popular. She just wants to survive -- and look cute too. Is that too much to ask when you're eleven?

Starred Review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:

Sixth grade means opportunity to Bessica Lefter, who's excited about the wide new horizon before her. She's appalled, however, to find that other people are looking to their own new possibilities -- that her best friend and loyal, malleable sidekick Sylvie is being sent to a different middle school, and that her beloved grandmother is heading off on a six-week jaunt with her boyfriend. Instead of leaping on to the sixth-grade scene as she had envisioned, Bessica finds herself slinking around friendless; she's therefore desperately trying to slot herself into a redeeming social category, especially hoping to reach the pinnacle of success - the cheerleading squad.

Bessica's voice is funny, goofy, anxious, and absolutely emotionally authentic: she's visibly self-absorbed from the get-go as she bulldozes Sylvie without a second thought, and it's utterly credible that she's stunned to find the change she'd anticipated could happen to people other than herself. There's plenty of real understanding, though, about Bessica's predicament, and the book poignantly (albeit humorously) depicts the painful irony of finally getting your own cell phone - and having nobody to talk on it but your mom. It's that kind of offhand believable detail at which Tracy excels, setting Bessica in a teeming middle school where things happen to everybody, not just the protagonist. Bessica's crude, desperate negotiation of social strata (she's horrified of being classified as - well, somebody like her) reeks of preteen developmental reality, as does the fact that it takes some serious knocks and straight talk before she lets go of her preconceptions and accepts a satisfying niche (as the playful team mascot) instead of torturing herself over an imaginary one. Readers negotiating their own middle-school minefields or soaking up all the preparatory information they can find will breathlessly follow Bessica's escapades.

Kirkus Reviews:

Bessica Lefter looked forward to middle school until a rash decision to get matching pixie haircuts led to her having to negotiate the new school entirely on her own, without her longtime best friend Sylvie. Well-meaning adults and former students give her conflicting advice. On her own she finds it hard to avoid the psycho-bullies and make new friends. Eating cookies from the vending machine in "loner town" had not been her plan. On top of that, her grandmother and best ally has gone off on a trip in her new friend Willy's motor home. One subplot revolves around Bessica's use of an online-dating service to find her grandmother a more suitable friend. Another involves Bessica's efforts to join the cheerleading squad, although she doesn't like to be upside down. The first-person narration reveals the inconsistencies of preteendom, the magnified problems and rapid emotional swings. Both family and school are believable, but, appropriately, this is all about Bessica, a character whose newfound bear persona schoolmates and readers alike can applaud.


Tracy's latest novel describes 11-year-old Bessica Lefter's futile and often comical attempts to discard the vestiges of her elementary-school self at the start of her sixth-grade year. After a disastrous visit to the hairstylist, Bessica loses her lifelong best friend, Sylvie, when their matching pixie haircuts are not equally flattering. Suddenly, Bessica is without an ally and must learn to forge her own identity throughout the perils of middle school. Although it's not always easy to like Bessica, it is hard not to laugh with her as she loses her cool in the presence of her hunky teenage neighbor, jump ropes her way into the role of school mascot in furry pants, and tries to make nice with the school bullies. A supporting star of the story is Bessica's tech-savvy grandma, who, even while away on a spelunking trip with her latest man friend, reminds Bessica of the power of positive thinking. Grandma also illustrates the important moral of this story: "Look for happiness and you'll find it." - Erin Anderson


Bessica Lefter's two best friends have abandoned her just weeks before starting middle school--her grandmother takes off on an RV adventure with her Internet boyfriend, Willy, and Sylvie's mother transfers her to a different school after determining that Bessica is a dangerous influence. Bessica is devastated but is determined to become a whole new woman. With humor and panache, she pummels her way through her first weeks of middle school, making misstep after misstep. Right off the bat, she gets on the bad side of the resident bullies, lands in the principal's office with a goth girl who might end up being her only friend, and hacks into her grandmother's computer in a misguided attempt to find her a better boyfriend who won't steal her away from Bessica. Trying out for team mascot against one of the most popular girls in school is a big risk that could make or break her socially, but Bessica is not someone who avoids challenge. Though it starts off on a sad note - losing Sylvie and Grandma at the same time seems particularly unjust - Bessica's tale rebounds into a fun and realistic story of a girl reinventing herself. She tries so hard that the reader cannot help but cheer her on--her voice is funny and true and very sympathetic. Many a middle school girl will find a piece of herself in Bessica Lefter. - Laura Lehner-Ennis

School Library Journal:

Poor Bessica doesn't think things can get any worse. On the same day, she learns that her best friend, Sylvie, is going to a different school and that her grandma is going on a six-week trip, leaving her to navigate her upcoming entry into middle school on her own. How will she know how to avoid the dweebs, the psycho-bullies, and the alts? How will she know which clubs to join and which table to sit at in the lunchroom? And will she ever get her locker open? Bessica takes everything very seriously, but many of the situations in which she finds herself are humorous. She is an "everytween" with the typical myopia of the age, and as such many readers will relate to her struggle to find a place to belong and applaud her hard-won position in the middle-school hierarchy. - Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI

Parents' Choice:

Bessica Lefter is starting middle school with big problems her best friend transferred to another school at the last minute, her grandmother has run off with her boyfriend in a motor home, she's starting school not knowing one other person, and has a brand-new pixie haircut that kicked off all her problems. This is a story about the perils of middle school, with a strong and irresistible protagonist. Bessica Lefter was named after the real-life Bessica Raiche, the first woman to pilot a solo flight. Raiche built a plane in her living room from bamboo and silk and bicycle wheels. She was an interesting and plucky character, a fitting namesake for the fictional Bessica. Author Kristen Tracy addresses the horrors bullies, lunch seating, malfunctioning lockers, P.E. with engaging humor. Bessica plunges into everything she does with a hapless and desperate passion. She bumbles through her first week of school, and anything that can go wrong, does. Her locker won't open, she has pens when she's supposed to have pencils, and overwhelmed by the daunting lunch scene she sticks to vending machines which, in an unfortunate comedy of errors, lands her in the principal's office. Bessica inadvertently fails to heed every bit of advice the well-meaning Docker twins armed her with i.e., steer clear of the alt crowd, Dolan the Puker and psycho-bullies. Still, she keeps coming back.

Bessica’s determination is infectious, and courageous. Faced with one humiliation after another, she manages to triumph, and it makes the ending that much more of a payoff. Tracy uses just the right touch of humor to keep the story fun, yet still take seriously some painful side effects of growing up.

The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter was released in hardcover on January 11th, 2011.

ISBN-10: 0385736886

ISBN-13: 978-0385736886

Recommended for ages 9 and up, grades 4 and up.

But wait! There's more! Check out the next book, Bessica Lefter Bites Back.


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