In the process of learning to do baby storytime, I’ve learned that one sort of popular book for infants and young toddlers is simply a book that outlines the basic components of “baby’s day.” Briefly, this is because they can easily make connections between their lives and what is going on in the book. Waking up, eating, taking a bath – all familiar territory. This leaves their brains free to fire its synapses on drawing more connection between life and illustration – increasing vocabulary, reasoning power, etc. Okay, I’ll be honest – before I dig myself into a hole, I’m still getting the developmental hang of this. I promise I’ve read something somewhere authoritative, but basically all you need to know is that infants and toddlers enjoy books that reflect the events in their everyday lives very much. (A very good example of this for toddlers is Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora, or one of my faves, The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell.)
The book Twelve by Lauren Myracle, in my opinion, does something similar for tweens. They’re in a stage of developing autonomy, just like toddlers – and granted, it’s not like learning to walk and speak, but it’s literally growing a new body, maybe realizing that your ideas and values are different from your parents or your classmates, and other stuff that fuels the growing of blemishes, the writing of bad poetry and the need to be a total punk. Having a book reflect life experiences might be helpful getting through the day-t0-day drudgery of pumping endocrine systems, romance, school, parents, etc.
Twelve is actually a sequel to the book Eleven (bien sur) which introduces us to Winifred “Winnie” Perry, your typical suburban American pre-teenager. Winnie is fairly average: she’s pretty, not wildly intelligent, but smart enough to do well in school (though the academic aspect of her life is barely mentioned). She is, however, incredibly insightful and self-aware for a 12 year old. She analyzes her relationships with her various friends, her family, and her body like a pro, although sometimes she is extremely embarrassed by all three. You can also tell that despite the embarrassment factor, Winnie truly loves and enjoys her family. Her parents are down-to-earth and supportive, and her equally self-aware older sister Sandra is a teen, yes, but a good role model for Winnie. Who, in turn, is a wonderful big sister to 6 year old Ty. She even lets him try on her bras!
From Winnie’s narration at the beginning of the book, if we haven’t read Eleven (and we didn’t), we can assume that during the past year, her best friend, Amanda, has jilted her for the more popular, fashion and girly Gail. Through this social turmoil Winnie struck up a friendship with Dinah, who seems less mature and more fragile than Amanda, but is kinder and a more devoted friend to Winnie. During the course of Twelve, Winnie develops breasts, graduates from sixth grade, gets her ears pierced, attends sleepover summer camp, goes skinny-dipping, starts her period, learns to use tampons, enters the world of junior high school and *gasp* meets a guy! Changing personalities, evolving friendships, developing bodies, and how to be a good person while worrying what the world thinks of you all figure prominently in this novel, as they do in most lives at that age. Sometimes I thought “This is Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for the digital native age!” but it’s sweet and funny in its own right. Looking back at my own life at that age, (and the sometime trauma it caused me), I was at times very touched by Winnie’s successes, failures and commentary. For a reader who is the same age as Winnie, her experiences will also serve to normalize the sometimes difficult, humiliating, and joyous process of growing up for tweens.
The flow of the book takes the reader from Winnie’s twelfth to thirteenth birthdays. Since Winnie’s birthday is in March, the natural storyline of the book goes from the end of one year of school through the summer and up until the spring of the next year at school. The story itself is not quite a story, it’s more of an internal monologue that can jump hours or days at a time, analyzing all the new life experiences that Winnie’s 12th year has brought her. The novel seems like it’s more of a stream of consciousness or a bulleted list of events than an actual plot.
The setting also tends to change quite a bit and so do the people. There are a lot of characters in this novel, some of which are permanent, some fleeting, some are prevalent in some chapters of her life (harhar) and completely absent in others. A few provide interesting information about Winnie as a character, but most just seem to be window dressing for the scene. For instance, Winnie meets a whole cabin of girls at Camp Winding Gap, but we as readers hardly ever get to know them and they disappear with in the span of a few pages. While reading, I was put-off by this laundry list of places and people, each with their own little crisis or situation. When were any of these things going to become really consequential? Amanda, Winnie’s former best friend, returns for a summer of friendship at camp, then all but disappears when Winnie starts school in the fall, only to re-emerge as a goth in the sequel, Thirteen (shhhh!). Except for perfunctory comparisons to Dinah, Amanda is essentially dead to us as readers. Meanwhile, she’s seamlessly replaced by a girl named Cinnamon, who then becomes a friend-fixture in the rest of the novel and the sequel. Perhaps my initially adverse reaction was personal: I like follow-up. I like plot. But, looking back on my own years, I realized that perhaps this is how the book mimics life. The year that bridges elementary and middle or junior high school is one of changing peer groups, schools, and general upheaval. People come and go, we’re introduced to new characters every day, and while there might be story arcs like camp, finding partners, school… it’s just illustrative of a time of great change in our lives. A staggering work of literary genius, perhaps it’s not. But it is a lovely alternative recommendation for the pre-gossip girl in your life.