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Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life


Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life


Sophie Hartley is in fourth grade. Next year, she and her classmates will have to watch the movie. You know the one. About puberty. Sophie doesn’t know much about puberty, except for the fact that her older sister, Nora, and her older brother, Thad, have both gone through it, and Sophie has seen them agonize over things that seem stupid to her. Nora is desperate to straighten her curly hair and is nervous that her family will embarrass her in front of boys. Thad has a new girlfriend every month; they keep dumping him.

Sophie swears that she will never get involved in that silly “boy-girl” stuff, and she is nervous about what the content of that scary movie might be. Especially because it seems that the snooty Destiny might already know more than Sophie. Worse, Destiny is planning a meeting at which she will tell select members of the class everything she knows, and Sophie is pointedly not included. To get back at Destiny, Sophie announces her own puberty meeting. But how will she learn enough in time for the big day?

These are the stakes in Stephanie Greene’s SOPHIE HARTLEY AND THE FACTS OF LIFE. This is the fourth entry in the Sophie Hartley series, and it is just as readable as ever. Sophie has a layered personality beyond “spunky” or “messy.” She is kind and cranky, curious and afraid. She sees the headache that her four siblings cause her parents, and her quiet obedience --- coupled with her hesitant reminders to her mother that not all of the children are misbehaving --- will resonate with many readers. Still, Sophie isn’t a saint; she snaps at her siblings too

[SOPHIE HARTLEY AND THE FACTS OF LIFE] deals with the mix of excitement and anxiety that young people tend to feel when faced with the idea of their changing bodies, and it subtly reinforces that idea that every response to these changes is okay.

Sophie’s friend group is exceptional for the loyalty and diversity of its members. When Destiny decides to invite Alice to her meeting without Sophie or Jenna, Sophie becomes worried that her friend will defect. When confronted, Alice tells Sophie that of course she isn’t going to Destiny’s meeting, as though it should have been obvious. This is especially poignant given Alice’s temptation to be accepted by Destiny.

Another strength of the book is the diversity of reactions that Sophie, Jenna, and Alice have to the prospect of the movie. Sophie is nervous about it and wishes puberty didn’t have to happen; she doesn’t want to end up like her older siblings. Jenna has seen her older brothers in the midst of their body changes and thinks that they are acting strangely, but is really more concerned with her yo-yo tricks. Alice is actually vaguely excited about things like wearing deodorant and going to dances, but her excitement is not without a little trepidation, too. Despite their different responses, the girls support each other and do not try to manipulate the others into sharing their exact perspective.

While her class is wringing its collective hands about the upcoming film, Sophie is also dealing with family trouble. Her mother has been getting more and more fed up with her children’s disobedience and constant bickering, and it’s causing a rift between her parents --- her father has a hard time relating to her mother’s dissatisfaction. Her father, usually traveling for his job as a professional mover, is home with a broken foot. This coincides with her mother being called to attend an out-of-town, week-long conference. Their arguments get so heated that Sophie wonders whether they might get a divorce. Plus, with her mother so riled up, Sophie doesn’t feel comfortable asking her questions about puberty. She calms herself down with the techniques she has been learning in her yoga class at school.

When Sophie finally learns a little about the facts of life, the information comes from an unlikely, but supportive and appropriate, source. She does not learn more than she is ready to know in that moment. Her informer tells her about hormones and glands using metaphors about cars and marshmallows. This book will not reveal any concrete facts about puberty and the things that are likely to follow. It deals with the mix of excitement and anxiety that young people tend to feel when faced with the idea of their changing bodies, and it subtly reinforces that idea that every response to these changes is okay.

Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on December 12, 2013

Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life
by Stephanie Greene

  • Publication Date: November 19, 2013
  • Genres: Children's, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • ISBN-10: 0547976526
  • ISBN-13: 9780547976525