Anna Mei’s reluctance in starting a new school is amplified while being introduced to her classmates. A fellow student, Danny, questions why she is named after a cartoon, which sparks a discussion causing Anna Mei to feel as if she has been thrust into a game show. In an attempt to quietly fit in, she joins up with a group of girls known at the Ponytails, who all love horses, wear their hair in the style of their group name, and say that pink (Anna Mei’s favorite color) is out while green and orange are the new hot thing. No one wants to feel different or not accepted for who they are, and these are the feelings that Anna Mei struggles with. Will her friends accept her if they see she has tall, blonde hair, blue eyed parents? Does she want to belong to a group who love horses when she actually loves science? Will she ever fit in? Over the next few months Anna Mei increasingly discovers that maintaining the lies only exacerbates the feeling of not being true to one’s self. She ends up hurting not only her father, but also the one schoolmate, who through the course of the book, did truly accept her, Danny.
Her lies catching up with her and growing tired of being “fake”, Anna Mei finds a glimmer of hope during Sunday Mass. She realizes that perhaps God does have a plan for her, even if she does not yet have an understanding of what that plan is. Her strength grows and she talks with her mother, taking those important first steps towards introducing the world to the real Anna Mei.
In Anna Mei, Grund has created a character that represents not only the struggles, but also the joys of growing up. Faith does play a pivotal role in Anna Mei’s life, but of equal importance are the strength of family and the value of true friendships. There are no heavy handed lessons here. Subtle hints, such as Danny questioning why Anna Mei doesn’t wear her pink shoes anymore, are sprinkled throughout the text. Grund manages to break down the chaos that is the tween years and gently instill little life lessons in manageable bits, just right for a satisfying read. Recommended for ages 9-12.
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