Monday, August 13, 2007

Review: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

Gennifer Choldenko's If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period is a book that packs a punch on two different levels: one) its midpoint plot twist comes as a complete and total surprise to the reader; and two) its textual simplicity belies the deep and important truths central to the novel.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period is narrated by two seventh-grade students attending a prestigious private school--Kirsten McKenna and Walker Jones. Kirsten begins the school year suffering from the usual seventh-grade problems: her parents are on the verge of divorce and her best friend Rory has fallen in with the popular crowd. Moreover, Kirsten has suddenly gained 30 pounds and is uncomfortable in her larger body.

Walker is a new student to the group. He earned a scholarship to the private school and is the only African-American student in the seventh grade. Within weeks, he establishes himself at the very top of his class. The pressure on Walk is huge. Every day his mom, Sylvia, reminds him, "Brothers can't make it in this world unless we work twice as hard as everyone else."

Kirsten and Walk become friends when Kirsten realizes Rory and the popular girls (headed by a truly vile specimen, Brianna) are only pretending to be friends with her. Kirsten, resilient despite the problems at home and at school, seats herself at Walk's table and becomes fast friends with him and his crowd. Then a secret is revealed.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period is wonderful book. Kirsten and Walk's voices are distinct. Kirsten is a good-natured girl, just trying to find her place in the world. She does so despite quarreling parents and the machinations of the it-crowd. Walk is such a great kid--one who welcomes Kirsten with open arms into his group of friends--that you feel deeply for him when he learns a difficult truth about his life.

Choldenko has achieved the near impossible with If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. This is a book any fifth grader can read, but it is also one with life-changing truths. Don't miss it.