If you are—or ever were—a kid who couldn’t wait for school to start in September, get ready to meet Magnolia Jane Mayfield. It’s 1988, and Maggie’s starting sixth grade. She’s thrilled to have a lunch table all to herself, because she can spread out her books better that way. Her mother has a new and glamorous (or at any rate, glamorous-sounding) job; her father tells jokes even while his limbs get increasingly “sleepy”; and a boy named Clyde is beginning to make her understand her older sisters’ interest in lip gloss. But her career aspirations come first: After all, she plans to be president of the United States someday.
Maggie’s fear and confusion as she learns more about her father’s illness are direct and authentic. A contemporary tween would go online for information, not chase after a missing encyclopedia volume as Maggie does, but the retro feel only adds to the charm. The Meaning of Maggie does for middle-grade fiction what John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars did for teen literature: Both portray coping with serious illness as one aspect of a complex character, not as the single issue that defines them. Details of life with multiple sclerosis are spot-on, but what ultimately stands out is the way Maggie describes her world, including her footnoted observations about everything from butterscotch to the unbreakable Law of Mom. Funny, sweet, smart and poignant, this is a book not to miss.
Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school in New Jersey.