Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel
Lucy just knows that this is the biggest recess of her life, because at recess she will kiss Tom and cement herself as a popular fourth grader along with her best friend Becky. But after the kiss happens, all she has is a ring that turns her finger green and a sinking feeling about what just happened. Soon after the kiss, Lucy’s baby sister is born. Her parents are shocked to have a baby with Downs Syndrome and are caught up in coping with the surprise. That leaves Lucy alone to cope with the sudden turn of events at school where over the course of a few days she goes from being cool and popular to being one of the lamest kids in the class. Becky calls Lucy at night to tell her all of the mean things that the other kids are saying about her, claiming that she is still Lucy’s friend but can’t be her friend at school anymore. In the meantime, Lucy starts to make friends with some of the other kids in her class. She does a project on wolves with Sam, a very quiet boy who is bullied by the same kids. Out of that project and her growing group of outcast friends, Lucy decides that the only solution for them is to become their own pack.
Vrabel captures elementary school perfectly with its confusing social pressures that keep people conforming to the norm. She manages to keep everything at just the right level, never becoming melodramatic about the situation. At the same time, it is clear how devastating the bullying is to Lucy. While she has a supportive family, they are distracted by the new baby and rightly so. Her new little sister helps be a guide for Lucy forward, and is a very smart addition to the story, allowing Lucy her growth and also serving as an example of someone who will also need their own pack to support her.
Lucy is a character who becomes more likeable as the book progresses. At first with her quests for popularity and kisses, Lucy is shallow but after she becomes shunned by the popular crowd she immediately reveals how smart and strong she actually is. Vrabel’s brilliant combination of wolf packs and middle school bullies adds strength to the entire novel.
A smart book on bullies, differences and disabilities, this novel is one that will make a great read aloud for elementary classes. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.