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11 Birthdays

Review

11 Birthdays

Amanda used to love her birthday. She has a whole scrapbook full of pictures of birthday parties past, back when she used to celebrate with her best friend Leo, whom she "met" when both were newborns in the hospital, born on the same day. For nine happy birthdays, Leo, Amanda and their families celebrated together. But that all ended the night of their 10th birthday party, when Amanda heard Leo telling his guy friends that he was embarrassed to hold birthday parties with a girl, that they weren't really friends, and that he didn't like Amanda after all.

For a year, Amanda and Leo haven't spoken to each other, and it hasn't been easy on Amanda. She has tried to fit in with a new group of friends, but they're more interested in gymnastics and weight loss than in getting to know the real Amanda. Now, on her (and Leo's, but she's trying to forget about that) 11th birthday, Amanda is dreading what should be a really exciting day. Her mom is stressed about work, her older sister is anxious about finding a date for the dance, Amanda has been roped into trying out for the gymnastics team even though she can't do a back handspring, and she’s worried that nobody will come to her lame birthday costume party because everyone from her grade will be at Leo's party instead.

Sure enough, Amanda's birthday is just as horrific as she had thought it would be. So imagine her shock, horror and confusion when she wakes up the next morning only to discover that it's her birthday all over again! First she's convinced it's a big joke, then she's scared --- and finally she learns that she might have an unexpected ally to help her figure out why she's reliving this same day over and over again, and how she can break the curse once and for all.

The basic premise of Wendy Mass's 11 BIRTHDAYS will seem familiar to anyone who has seen the movie Groundhog Day. Unlike in that film, however, Amanda must solve a mystery in order to break the endless cycle of reliving her 11th birthday. Her quest takes her deep into her local and family history and back to a vital friendship connection she thought she had lost forever. In addition, her repeated reliving of her birthday reminds her who she is, what she wants and who her real friends are. Coming of age in just one day might seem impossible --- but when she has 11 chances to do things right, Amanda just might seem to do a lot of growing up overnight.

Although the plot might be fantastical, Mass's perceptive book uses a lighthearted premise to delve into the serious topics of middle school friendships, particularly the complicated dynamics that arise when boys and girls --- who used to think nothing of playing together --- now have their friendships thrown into crisis. 11 BIRTHDAYS might seem like a fanciful, even frivolous fantasy novel, but it offers genuine insights into ways in which middle school children can be true to their friends --- and to themselves.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 1, 2010

11 Birthdays
by Wendy Mass

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2010
  • Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0545052408
  • ISBN-13: 9780545052405