Abby, a big girl with an even bigger heart, is tired of the “medium girls” who are medium smart and medium attractive. And she’s especially tired of their ringleader and bully, Kristen. In The Second Life of Abigail Walker by award-winning author Frances O’Roark Dowell, the sixth-grader walks away from their pettiness and discovers a rich world with unexpected friendships.

Abby takes solace in an abandoned field where she can draw and dream of houses she’d like to build. When Kristen and her followers threaten to locate her, Abby takes off deeper into the woods, where she finds a farm with 9-year-old Anders and his Iraqi war veteran father, Matt, who’s waiting for a space in the VA hospital. Suffering from what appears to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Matt has become obsessed with Lewis and Clark’s expedition and the numerous animal species the explorers encountered along the way.

Abby finds solace with this family that doesn’t judge her weight or watch how many pizza slices she slips onto her dinner plate. Soon she’s not just swapping lunch with her new Indian-American friends and getting to know the school’s computer expert but relying on them for research to help Matt with his animal project. Enhancing this realistic story is a layer of magic and folklore as the woods is also home to a fox that observes Abby’s situation. Intermittent chapters from the fox’s point of view reveal an unusual connection to Matt’s tour of duty.

Unlike most stories that tackle bullying or issues with weight, this touching tale doesn’t feature Abby trying to defend herself from the mean girls or trying to shed pounds. Instead, the spunky, resilient tween looks for and finds acceptance from those she cares about—including herself. That’s something all readers can relate to, no matter their size or popularity.

 

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