Friday, April 25, 2014

Review - "Ava and Pip"

In comedy, the “straight man” doesn’t get enough credit.  The level-headed, unexcitable yin to the clownish, bumbling yang.  The Marge Simpson.  The Bing Crosby.  The Bud Abbott.  Sure the Marx Brothers are hysterical, but come on!  Margaret Dumont had to run all the same scenes, and had to do so without so much as cracking a smile!  It’s tough to be the “straight man”.  Not only do people not understand how hard your job is, but you sometimes go unnoticed altogether.   So as it is in comedy, so as it goes in life.  Steadier, more sensible siblings (hello, Elinor!) are often overlooked or underestimated in contrast to their headstrong, passionate brethren (hello, Marianne!).  This can be true if your sibling is a cut-up, a screw-up or just…different.  This is the case of one Ava Wren, and her sister Pip, in Carol Weston’s appropriately titled, Ava and Pip.

Ava is in fifth grade.  Pip is in seventh.  Ava is cheerful and outgoing.  Pip is not.  Both girls are intelligent, and coming from a word-nerd family, prone to palindromic games (M-O-M, D-A-D, A-V-A, P-I-P).  Ava has friends.  Pip does not.  As our epistolary story begins with Ava and her new diary, we see that though Ava tries to include her sister in games and fun, Pip is in a gloomy funk, and unfortunately for the Wren family, misery loves company.  When a misunderstanding at school prompts Ava to write a mocking short story about the new girl in Pip’s class, the fallout earns Ava a new friend, a new perspective, a new backbone, and most importantly, a new way to help her sister out of the doldrums. 

Ava and Pip walks a very thin tightrope above a sea filled with literary piranhas: bullying, shyness, regret, etc.  But for the most part, Ms. Weston achieves a perfect balance.  Ava and Pip are carefully drawn characters, and their traits, both those they share and those they don’t, are believable.  The whole family dynamic, in fact, is very germane to their situation and authentic.  It’s easy to understand how M-O-M favors Pip, her eldest, her preemie, her “girl with a problem”, when Ava is so reliable and capable of looking out for herself, and it’s just as easy to feel how infinitely frustrating this is, and how unbalanced it makes the family.  This is a wonderful book for teaching empathy.  We get to see difficult situations from multiple sides of the story, and no one is demonized or lionized.  And while Pip’s transformation seems to come a bit too quickly, and a bit too easily, and it’s important to recognize that shifting from a trait as tricky as painful shyness (with perhaps a touch of depression) is a process and requires work, Pip’s progress is encouraging, and “Pip’s Tips” might go a long way towards helping shy readers with their own blooming.

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston
2014, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Preview copy provided by publisher for review

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