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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: The Aristobrats

blog Review: The AristobratsThe Aristobrats by Jennifer Solow. Sourcebooks. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Meet Parker Bell, Ikea Bentley, Plum Petrovsky, Kiki Allen — four best friends who are about to start eighth grade at Wallingford Academy. All are “legacies,” also called Aristobrats (but not to their faces). In addition to being second and third generation “Wallys,” they are the four most popular girls at school.

Parker needs that popularity, that friendship, that acceptance, because her Aristobrat status is a bit of an illusion. Oh, she’s a legacy, all right. The thing is, the family money is gone and her single mother struggles to pay the bills. Looming over Parker is the knowledge that this could be her last year at Wally — it could be her last month. She may not even last the year! So it has to be perfect, perfect, perfect: perfect friendships, perfect boyfriend. She has the EGB (Eighth Grade Boyfriend) all picked out: Tribb. She has her popularity in place, and works on it daily with Facebook and MySpace. Her perfect plans go haywire when she and her friends are assigned to do the very unpopular school webcast. What can she do to save herself and her friends from this horror?

The Good: A perfect middle school read: fun and breezy with depth. The fun comes from the friendship and antics of “Aristobrats” Parker, Ikea, Plum and Kiki. In The Aristobrats, the two girls we learn the most about Parker and Ikea. Parker is likable, but also oddly arrogant — I can see why others would call her an “Aristobrat.” She assumes that Tribb will be her EGB even when they haven’t really spoken for weeks. She prepares her first day of school outfit with a ton of care, and having gone to schools that require uniforms,  yes, it’s not that simple! Anyway, Parker thinks, “Altogether, the look said confident but not stuck up, pretty but not self-obsessed, excited but not super-anxious about it.” She immediately realizes, “although wouldn’t staring at myself in the mirror for twenty minutes technically be considered stuck up or merely a commitment to excellence?” When a new girl starts school, Parker generously tells her that if she Friends her on Facebook, she’ll accept it. Parker considers asking Allegra (an overachiever and so not popular) to sit at the Good Table at lunch, Parker decides that “maybe Allegra doesn’t want to sit here. [It] can be a really intimidating place for most people.” But here’s the thing — Parker and friends are never mean or nasty. They don’t pick on kids or ridicule them.

Parker and the Aristobrats have many rules about what is in and what isn’t acceptable. Friendship rings? In. Macrame bracelets? Out. One of the subtle points about the book is how the girls outside begin to ignore these rules because a new girl in school is slowly rising up the popularity ladder. Parker notices the other girls wearing headbands like the new girl, realizes that Kiki’s latest haircut isn’t being copied by others, sees some girls wearing macrame bracelets, and doesn’t realize that the Aristobrats’s influence isn’t what it used to be. Parker’s expectations about Tribb are also not quite realistic or realized.

Why does Parker like rules? “Making up rules always got her back in a posimood. Rules were like happy pre-lated birthday presents — there was nothing bad about them.” Parker cannot control the absence of a dad, any moment her mother may sell the house, Parker may lose her friends and school — but she can control certain things with “the rules.” What’s great is that Solow never explicitly feeds that connection to the reader.

Ikea (“pronounced I-kay-a, like the exotic African lodge where she was conceived, not I-kee-ya, like the un-exotic Swedish furniture store“), is one of the few children of color at Wallingford and the only African American girl in her class. She’s Miss Preppy and under tremendous pressure from her attorney father to go to Yale, just like he did. When Ikea is introduced, she has glossy straight hair and hazel eyes. She gets annoyed that people think she should date the only African American boy at Wally. A scene midway through the book shows Ikea sitting in the bathroom straightening her hair with a hot comb and putting in contact lenses to hide her brown eyes. The Aristobrats raise questions abouts beauty and the under-representation of children of color at Wallingford, without being a heavy-handed message book.

What else? The romance is cute and light. Yes, some of the girls want EGBs but their dream idea of a boyfriend is someone to talk to in the hallways and at lunch, to go to a dance, and — maybe — kiss. The friendship is also great; the girls agree to do the webcast, which they don’t want to do, because they know it’s important to Ikea. Each Aristobrat is true to herself and they respect their differences. I look forward to more books in the series, to find out more about Plum and her offbeat taste, Kiki and her extravagances, as well as whether Parker will stay in school, whether Ikea keeps her father’s respect (and her brown eyes!), and what happens next with webcasts.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Ari says:

    So I was curious about this book when I saw the cover and title because how often do you see a book about a rich Black person? And now I’m seeing some positive reviews. I think I will give this book a try, especially since I value your opinion. I was also immediately able to relate to the hot comb scene you describe and people thinking you should date the only African American guy in your class. *rolls eyes*

    But I also like that the popular girls aren’t mean. Because I don’t think there are that many “mean girls”, they can use backhanded compliments but for the most part I think they just view themselves differently. They don’t feel the need to always put people down because they think they have it all. So it’s nice to see a more realistic view of popular girls.

  2. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    The other girls totally “eye roll” that, but what’s nice is that they aren’t aware enough to take that extra step to realize there is more going on. Part of this book is Ikea realizing it & getting the others to see what she sees. I’m curious to see how the Ikea storyline plays out; I get the sense that one or two girls will feature in each book. Will Ikea’s stand carry through? She pretty much calls the school on not having enough kids of color — will that enrollment change? And what personal balance will she find?

  3. A very heartfelt thank you. Writing is such an isolated existence – it’s really exhilarating when people start talking.

    So, Ikea:
    I was determined to write a black main character – one all girls could look up to. I don’t see enough realistic “faces of color” in books for girls and I felt like it was an important thing I could offer as a writer. But as a white writer, I needed to respect who Ikea was but also my own (and Parker’s) “whiteness” was undeniable. Parker needed to see Ikea from a white perspective, which I understood how to write. But when Ikea saw herself, it needed to be true and real to her black experience, which I only could imagine.

    I worked a lot with a few friends including Precious Williams, author of the new memoir, “Color Blind” to get the details just right. I truly feel terrible when I imagine Ikea sitting there in the bathroom yanking her hair into a “white girl’s” hairdo or secretly moisturizing her ashy skin when no one’s looking. I want to go in and rescue her. I guess I just adore her – she’s a very cool kid coming into her own (and looks nothing like the girl on the cover in my mind!).

    If you want to see the real inspiration for Ikea, here she is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jennifersolow/4592726858/in/set-72157624020196688/
    (I’m on the right, she’s on the left – and yes, we’re still friends)

    Thanks again – I’m enjoying my cup a’ tea and hoping they PRINT MORE BOOKS! We sold out every copy in existence today, save for a few. And your readers are always welcome to stop by and say hello. This is my favorite part!

    Jennifer

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