I’m always looking for great middle-grade realistic fiction, and Beth Vrabel’s Pack of Dorks is a winner. The story starts with Lucy, the heroine, declaring, “This was the biggest recess of my life. Today, I would become–officially–the bravest, most daring, and by far the most mature fourth-grader at Autumn Grove Intermediate School. Today, as soon as the bell rang, I was on my way to becoming a legend. Today, I was going to kiss Tom Lemming.” Lucy is used to being popular; little does she know that thing are about to change.
I had a sinking feeling for Lucy when Becky, Lucy’s best friend, admits to her that she had befriended Lucy because she was the most popular girl in school. Furthermore, Becky would do “anything” to be popular. She says it herself. When Lucy doesn’t show up for school the day after the uninteresting first kiss she shares with Tom Lemming (Becky has her first kiss at the same time with Henry, Tom’s best friend), things begin changing fast. Lucy has a good reason for not going to school the day after: she is at the hospital with her mother, who is giving birth to Lucy’s little sister. Lucy’s sister is born with Down Syndrome, and her parents are sad and preoccupied. Worse (from Lucy’s point of view), she loses the faux-diamond ring that Tom had given her at the hospital, and her parents don’t seem to care or want to help her find it. When Lucy returns to school the next day, Becky is ignoring her. To add insult to injury, Becky, Tom, and Henry are laughing at her behind her back. Suddenly, Lucy finds herself being pursued by the class nosepicker, April, but to Lucy, it seems like she has no friends at all.
Things get better when Sam, a quiet and thoughtful boy with whom Lucy has never spoken, begins to talk with her. Sam and Lucy’s budding friendship helps Lucy to realize that there are a lot of classmates that she’s never noticed before. Even with Sam’s support, the drama continues at school, but Lucy’s parents are often too busy to notice that she’s having a hard time.
Lucy is tougher than she thinks she is. As Lucy’s friendship with Sam, April, and her little sister grow, Lucy begins to grow too. One of my favourite aspects of the book is how much Lucy is changed by her challenges; she becomes much more self-aware and much kinder as her story progresses. I loved this book because Lucy has the experience that most kids in later elementary school have; making new friends, losing old ones, and even being teased. Her story is universal in so many ways, but Lucy’s sense of self, her independence, and her introspectiveness is what makes her special. It is guaranteed that young readers will be able to put themselves in Lucy’s shoes, and perhaps they will also be inspired to form their own “pack of dorks.”