Kate's Reviews > 11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
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Groundhog Day for kids, but not as well-done or philosophical. I reviewed this one for grad school, and while this review is a little more harsh than it needs to be upon re-reading, I still mostly agree with it. Here it is:

In this contrived fantasy, estranged ex-friends Amanda and Leo are forced to re-live their shared eleventh birthday over and over again as they learn trite lessons about the importance of standing up for yourself, following your dreams, and helping others. Back when they were best buddies, Amanda and Leo always celebrated their birthday together – but when Amanda overhears Leo insulting her at their tenth birthday party, she is so hurt and angry that she shuts Leo out of her life entirely. When their eleventh birthday rolls around, the two plan separate parties, at which each has an equally terrible time. Amanda, who narrates the novel in a shallow and stereotypically “tweeny” voice (with lots of exclamation marks! and CAPITALIZED WORDS!), is dismayed when she awakens the next morning to discover that the awful birthday is repeating itself, as it does again the next day, and the next. She feels frightened and alone until she realizes that Leo is stuck in the same loop with her. The two team up to figure out what is going on, and in the process, face down some long-standing fears and gain greater understanding of themselves and each other. The lessons they learn tend to be rather simplistic and heavy-handed, as when Amanda says: “I must be a pretty unobservant person not to notice Leo getting picked on for a whole year. All I had thought about was how I felt; I had never looked at it from his side. We could have made up a whole lot sooner” (p. 191). When an explanation of the friends' predicament finally emerges, readers may find themselves disappointed by the strained, clumsily foreshadowed back-story involving an old family feud and an out-of-nowhere enchantment. Mass’ inelegant, superficial rehash of Groundhog Day robs an extraordinary premise of its power to beguile and delight.
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