Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: The Queen of the What Ifs by Norma Klein

Another reread of a lovely Norma Klein novel that I didn't give as much attention to at the time, because it was on the younger side. I am so glad I'm rereading all of these!

Robin is fifteen and summer is usually great but not this year. Her best friend is abroad, her mother is away all the time taking classes in the city, and her father is living in a friend's apartment in the city, to "finish his novel," but Robin thinks her parents, who have been fighting nonstop recently, are heading for a divorce. Luckily she has her older brother Lowell and her older sister Vanessa to lean on, as their once idyllic family is looking more and more like it might be just another statistic in the early 1980s. Her mother didn't work after college (and didn't finish college) and while she had done art all along, she didn't pursue it as a profession, and is terribly worried that she won't find work if she does end up a single mom, but is also feeling unfulfilled and like she gave up a lot for her husband. Meanwhile he seems to be hanging out a lot with a divorcee from his office who is rather nightmarish and making Robin just feel terrible.

Yes, there is a tiny romantic story for Robin, the son of a family friend, Mason, who kisses her one night after Vanessa throws a party and plays tennis with her on another day, but it's definitely a distraction, not at all the focus of the book. The focus is Robin's family. She adores her quirky and opinionated grandmother, is very close to Lowell, and idolizes Vanessa a bit (which is funny because I probably would have idolized Vanessa too at that age - she's in college, she's creative,she's a free spirit - but as an adult I can see how Vanessa thinks she's a free spirit but is in fact a stereotype as well, and she's got very strong opinions about things she knows nothing about.) Robin is very sweet. She's a little naive but not annoyingly so. She worries but isn't anxiety-riddled. She's responsible and kind and in some ways, very freshingly ordinary. I think I would have been friends with her. In fact, I truly wished I could have spent more time with her.

As with all Norma Klein novels, this book does acknowledge the existence of sex, but our main character only kisses a boy. She does wonder about "doing it" and has a friend who does it, and her sister and her grandmother are both living with their boyfriends, but there's nothing the least bit explicit. There is also one instance of marijuana use. I'm still going to recommend it highly for preteens. Especially once with parents whose marriages are in trouble. Robin really does cover all of the "what ifs" involved in divorce and remarriage, even if in the end not all of them play out.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I read my own copy of the book that was bought in the 1980s.

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