The Plot: Seventh grader Franny Flanders doesn’t want much out of life. Just for her two best friends, Kate and Joey, to get along and be friends so that she is no longer torn between the two. Just for her divorced father to dump his girlfriend and reunite with her mom. Just for her English teacher to chill and stop assigning Beowulf. Just for some decent food to be served in the school cafeteria. Just for mean girl Elodie to stop being, well, so mean. Just for Alden to like her as much as she likes him. Just for…
Well, maybe Franny does want a lot out of seventh grade. How to get it all done? Luckily, Franny has found her Granny’s box of magic recipes. She’s about to find out — there’s a recipe for that!
The Good: Karma Bites offers a frothy concoction of over the top middle school politics, friendship dynamics, and family, with magic that sometimes helps, sometimes hurts, and always has consequences. Having read several serious books in a row, it was nice to just relax, laugh, and enjoy.
Don’t read Karma Bites expecting realism. It’s all over the top and heightened. Franny’s school doesn’t just have cliques; it has cliques so entrenched, and popular “peaks” so powerful that they control when kids can enter the school. Franny’s best friend, Kate, is the eccentric side-kick to the nth degree, dressing in “Einstein meets skater girl” and talking in extreme slanguage. Franny’s other “bestie” is Joey, who fills the “popular girl” stereotype in her own over the top way: she’s a “pom” (pom pom/ cheerleader), perky, pretty, smart. Joey and Kate cannot get along, and Franny negotiates being best friends with both with a schedule that would scare a CEO. Who she walks to school with, how long she spends with one, it’s so detailed that it leads no time for Franny. No, seriously; because she has to support Kate’s band practice and Joey’s pom practice, Franny has no time to join anything herself.
Granny counsels Franny to actually, you know, talk to Joey and Kate. Who wants to have an uncomfortable talk when a magic recipe box offers an easy solution? OK, maybe not so easy if it involves whipping up a bunch of Brassbound Beatudinous Blondies* and standing on one’s head. Unfortunately, it backfires. Joey and Kate don’t just stop hating each other — they become such best friends that they dress alike, ignore everyone else (dropping out of band, poms, and, well, everything) and setting up a blog dedicated to their own fabulosity. Needless to say, if before they pulled Franny in two different directions, now they ignore her completely. And that is just ONE of Franny’s fix it recipes that don’t quite fix it the way she wanted.
The authors, Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas, both have a background in the film and television industry. Karma Bites reminded me of a film or tween television show brought to life: I could easily picture Franny and her friends, their school, the details of their lives; and the problems Franny’s recipes cause, as well as their solutions, are very mad-cap capers. Karma Bites is a good recommendation for those wanting fun, humor, and friendship. You know the kids (or parents) who, when you ask them what they like to read, reel off the name of a half dozen television shows and only want tie-ins? The types of books that either don’t exist or your library doesn’t buy or are all checked out? If they are asking for iCarly, the Wizards of Waverly Place, and Hannah Montana types of books, Karma Bites will make them happy.
The recipes Franny finds in the magic box are included in the book and some are also at the book’s website. Ah, the magic box of recipes. As I said, Karma Bites takes everything and makes it that much more. So of course, Granny isn’t going to be a typical Granny. She’s a world traveler (settling down to help her divorced daughter), who practices yoga and tai chi and collects an assortment of items (and friends) along her travels. If by the time you get to the end of Karma Bites you’re thinking “oh come on” about Granny’s friends, you’ve been reading the book wrong.
* I am thisclose to making those blondies, minus the headstand. Except for the whole “I don’t bake” thing.