Monday, January 26, 2015

The Anti-Socialites Diary 4: #NotCool by Alicia and Tameka McKenzie

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
132 pages

The Anti-Socialites Diary 4: #NotCool is the most dramatic diary in the series yet as Asia and Tasia fend off "The Bully Mafia" and cyber bullying in eighth grade at East Rivers Middle School. During their last weeks of summer vacation Asia, Tasia and their younger sister Mary come up with an elaborate scheme to raise money to buy a Wii U. They make homemade kites and sell 54 to earn $100. When their father finds the money in his toolbox he asks them where they got it from. Tasia confesses that they sold kites instead of going to the soccer field with Mary and their dad confiscates the money and shuts down their business because they were dishonest. The twins and Mary are extremely disappointed and scrap the idea of getting a Wii U altogether. The letdown causes Tasia to write "I can't believe I am going to say this but, I'll be happy when school starts again." Little does she know that it will be her roughest school year ever.

Asia's school year begins with her saying it is "BORING" and that "there's nothing going on." She explains that she is not being picked on or bullied so she doesn't know how to function. Her eighth grade teacher is Ms. Scarfinger who has "the best classroom library in the entire grade." She is still best friends with Celeste and sits next to another girl named Sharon, but she mostly reads a lot of books during class. The drama Asia expected early on occurs when a Vivienne-less "Hottie Clique" goes after Celeste and her boyfriend Chase. The new leader of "The Hottie Clique" Trina attempts to flirt with Chase, but he's not interested, so another Hottie Clique member named Margie goes after him too. The sabotage attempts end with a fake note on Celeste's desk claiming that Trina and Chase are secretly dating. Asia laughs it off and Celeste decides the whole thing is funny too. Asia has a much harder time finding the humor in the next incident involving Ricky Smalls and a trend on Twitter. She is informed by a student in Mr. Sage's class named Ronnie that her name is trending under the #NotCool hashtag for East Rivers' Twitter page. He shows her the tweets on his smartphone and Asia reads tweets such as #Asiasteeth, #Asiasbooks, #Asiashair, #Asiapants, etc. Asia is very hurt and cries alone in the bathroom. She decides to forgive Ricky and buys him a Christmas present, a book titled How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Asia gets the best Christmas gifts: Twenty five plays by William Shakespeare and all of Toni Morrison's novels--a huge upgrade from her dusty book collection featuring two books about a creepy man named Mr. Sweeney and The Bad Spider Dog.

In January East Rivers school counselor Chairman invites Asia to be a motivational speaker on academics for 6th and 7th grade students. One of Asia's biggest fears is public speaking so she is mortified when Chairman tells her to deliver a speech. She mumbles her way through an incoherent speech and then leaves the room abruptly. The seventh graders laugh at her and Asia feels resentful towards Chairman. On Valentine's Day a rotund classmate of Asia's named Curtis Pitcher offers her a teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers and asks her to be his date for the eighth grade dance. Asia politely declines and leaves the classroom. She is relieved she said no when Celeste tells her that Curtis ripped the teddy bear apart after she left the room. Asia competes in the 15th annual school Spelling Bee and goes to the 16th round with Sharon. She wins the Spelling Bee by spelling "triskaidekaphobia" correctly. Sharon gets offended by Asia's celebratory statements and Celeste gets mad at her too. Asia later apologizes to Sharon for bragging. During the senior class picnic Asia is quite sure that Curtis threw a football at her on purpose that caused her to fall, but she lets it go because she knows he is bitter. It leads to a nice boy in her class named Dustin giving her a Band-Aid and eventually asking her to save a dance for him at the eighth grade dance. Asia wears a pretty yellow dress at the dance and tries to honor Dustin's wish, but she doesn't know how to dance at all. He leads the way and they have a great time. Asia graduates from East Rivers as the Valedictorian and wins free tickets to Six Flags for participating in a reading program challenge---she read 550 books during the school year which was way past the 150 book total for the challenge. Asia is elated that she survived middle school with all the bullying and clique drama and looks forward to doing great things in high school.

Tasia dislikes her homeroom social studies teacher Mr. Hanes because he gives them a lot of homework. She really doesn't like the fact that he allows bullies such as Sheldon, Raven, and Darla to pick on her. Sheldon continues to make fun of Tasia this school year, but now she has to deal with the added taunts from Raven and Darla who are the meanest girls she's ever had class with. The three of them form what Tasia calls "The Bully Mafia" because they strongly enforce the social order in their class on a regular basis. Tasia really misses her best friend Rose Pettals who moved to Europe last school year and she also misses Orlando Depp, a boy she was friendly with as a study partner in her seventh grade class. Orlando is in a lower eighth grade class so she rarely sees him. The only bright spot to her day is math class with Mr. Sage who is cool and gives away extra credit points. Tasia often wins the extra credit points and gives her extra ones away to nice classmates, making Raven and Darla hate her even more. Tasia doesn't care because "a few bonus points won't change the fact that [they] are bullies!" During a school assembly Tasia has a big showdown with Raven and Darla after Mr. Sage announces that the eighth graders will get a week off from math if 70% of them pass the State Tests. Tasia asks Mr. Sage if students who pass can get the week off even if 70% don't pass and he says students who pass will get rewards. Raven and Darla get angry and throw a bottle of water and a piece of gum at her. Most of the students in the auditorium laugh at Tasia as she leaves to clean herself off. Tasia is so full of rage that she grabs a can of paint from the Art room and throws it on Raven and Darla's table at lunch. Principal Toady reprimands Tasia, Raven, and Darla--Tasia gets a whole month of detention and Darla gets suspended for three days for continued belligerent behavior.

While Darla is gone Raven tries to intimidate Tasia with threats, but Tasia fearlessly defends herself and tells Raven to get a life. "The Bully Mafia" takes a huge hit when Darla is transferred to another school by her worried mother. Tasia comments that "Darla's departure has significantly weakened the control that the 'tough' kids have over the nerds!" After that incident Tasia joins an after school program called Teens on the Rise with Asia and Celeste. She is surprised when she sees that Orlando has joined too. They reconnect and work together on their homework and even sit next to each other while watching The Great Gatsby. Celeste tries to encourage Tasia to go out with Orlando, but Tasia worries that Orlando doesn't like her. By the time Teens on the Rise ends Tasia has a startling epiphany that Orlando is too immature for her due to his behavior on the last day of the program. He acted like a "kindergartener" by following her around and picking on her. After that he asked her out, but Tasia refused. At the senior class picnic "The Hottie Clique" flirts with Orlando after finding out that Tasia liked him, but Tasia ignores them because she is over him already. Tasia is bored by the company of Geneva and Janice, two quiet girls in her class who were talking about trees. She was very happy when they went back to school. Tasia is hysterical over her mother's hideous dress choices for her and Asia's eighth grade dance, but her mom eventually buys them beautiful dresses. Tasia has tons of fun dancing to "Gangnam Style" and "Harlem Shake" at the dance and she even takes a picture with Orlando "to commemorate [her] ill-fated crush." At the graduation ceremony Tasia starts crying while delivering her Salutatory address. She's embarrassed, but she's also happy she received numerous awards and is done with middle school for good. Tasia reflects on what's actually "#NotCool": "students thinking they can bully others and get away with it" and "hopes 'The Hottie Clique' and 'The Bully Mafia' learn that people deserve to be treated with respect no matter how unstylish or unpopular they are."

Despite the heightened social tensions during their final year at East Rivers, Asia and Tasia succeed academically and become Valedictorian and Salutatorian. They stand up for themselves and stay focused on what really matters: education. The great lesson to take away from The Anti-Socialites Diary 4: #NotCool is that bullying doesn't make you cooler or smarter, but it makes the people you're picking on look cool and smart.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Anti-Socialites Diary 3: Team Misfits by Alicia and Tameka McKenzie

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
133 pages

Asia and Tasia McKinley's social misfortunes at school continue in The Anti-Socialites Diary 3: Team Misfits. They have moved back to New York City over the summer and are attending East Rivers Middle School for seventh grade. The differences between East Rivers and their previous middle school are glaringly obvious when it comes to culture and fashion, but before the year begins they celebrate their 12th birthday. Asia describes the new house and neighborhood her family lives in and is genuinely excited about getting to make noise past 9:00 p.m. "because people don't go to bed [early] here like they do in Maryland." She then talks about having a successful and fun birthday party with others kids on her block--a stark contrast to Asia and Tasia's tenth birthday party discussed in Diary 1: The Awkward Beginnings. Before the school year starts Asia optimistically writes "hopefully seventh grade turns out to be a nice surprise too."

Unfortunately, East Rivers Middle School is nothing like Asia expects. Her classmates are way bigger than she is and they wear trendier clothes and act "cooler" than she ever imagined. Although this is not an entirely new experience, Asia feels the weight of her isolation when she reflects that she only gets noticed when her classmates make fun of her hair and clothes. But the worst part is the extreme bullying she deals with from Raven Nickels, who rips up one of her Bookgirl comics in the first month of school. Because she is shunned by her peers Asia is flabbergasted when she suddenly gets a boyfriend named Eddie afterschool one day. It feels like a dream and Asia thinks she's in love until the illusion is shattered when Ricardo tells her in front of everyone in the cafeteria that Eddie dumped her for lead member of "The Hottie Clique" Vivienne Kidd. After that Asia develops an intense dislike for Vivienne and confronts her about her dishonesty in the Eddie situation. Halfway through the school year Asia is transferred to a new class that has a vigorous curriculum. She still excels academically, but she feels lonelier than ever before she finally befriends a girl named Celeste White. Asia is surprised by this friendship because Celeste is socially acceptable and does well in her classes. The only drawback to their relationship is that Celeste is happily dating a boy named Chase and pressures Asia to get a new boyfriend despite her lack of interest. When Celeste suggests that Asia go out with Alex from her former class, Asia respectfully declines.

That doesn't stop Alex from pursuing Asia with creepy love notes that have terrible riddles. Asia tells Alex that she doesn't want to go out with him and he shocks her by dumping his entire lunch tray of food over head. Everyone laughs at her in the cafeteria and this incident leads Asia to get counseling sessions from the school guidance counselor, Chairman. He invites her on the exclusive college trip to Cromwell University in May. Asia goes on the trip and has a terrible time because "The Hottie Clique", Dylan, and Eddie make fun of her nonstop. By the time they ride back to the city Asia defends herself and gives all of her bullies a taste of their own medicine by stating cold, hard facts about their grades and personalities. At the end of the school year Asia is rewarded the Golden Student of the Year Award at an awards assembly and cries on stage in front of the whole school. Although she is embarrassed, she is extremely relieved that she made it through seventh grade with the top grades and made a great friend despite the bias against her.

Tasia's school year is engrossed by her battle with the ultimate mean girls crew "The Hottie Clique." In the beginning of the school year "The Hottie Clique" leader Vivienne invites Tasia to join them and says she'll be able to get her a boyfriend quickly. Tasia is hesitant, but decides to join so she can fit in. It turns out to be a huge mistake because Vivienne is very controlling and condescending. Shortly after Tasia abruptly leaves "The Hottie Clique" she meets a new girl named Rose Pettals and they become best friends. Tasia and Rose decide to start a book where they write about their classmates and call it The T.R.uth. The students in their class are curious about what they have put in the book, but it's locked and only they have the key. Vivienne attempts to steal Rose away from Tasia by bribing her with a boy she likes named Antonio, but Rose tells her no thanks. The T.R.uth is dramatically stolen by Vivienne's admirers Colby and Allen, who give the book to Vivienne. After Vivienne reads the book she rips up all the pages. Tasia vows to write a new book, but doesn't follow through when she learns that Vivienne has been transferred to another seventh grade class. Tasia is briefly relieved only to find out that she has to deal with a new major problem--a boy named Sheldon who transfers to her class. He is a class clown who likes to make all his jokes about Tasia, but he actually has a crush on her that he's afraid to admit. Tasia is disgusted by his furtive advances on her especially when he asks her to be his secret Valentine.

Tasia turns him down, but keeps the chocolate he offers her. During the middle of the school year Tasia feels a bit lonely because Rose spends a lot of time with her boyfriend Antonio--that is until she develops a major crush on her classmate Orlando. She is partnered with Orlando for an English project and is pleasantly surprised by their easy camaraderie. Tasia and Rose attend the Spring Festival instead of going on the college trip to Cromwell University. Tasia thinks the festival is very boring and is mortified by a Justin Bieber impersonator. When Orlando arrives and helps Tasia buy a necklace she can't afford she goes into a daze prompting Rose to ask "Is there something you're not telling me?" Tasia says no and they laugh together because they both know she likes Orlando. May's entry begins in all caps: "DEVASTING, LIFE-CHANGING NEWS!" Sadly Rose moves away to Europe leaving Tasia to deal with Sheldon and "The Hottie Clique" by herself. In the last month of the school year Tasia and Rose talk over the phone and Tasia tells Rose the great news that Vivienne transferred to another school. Tasia is excited that she is hanging out with Orlando a lot in English class and reveals that he helps ease the pain of Rose's departure. The highlight of Tasia's year is a big hug from Orlando when he thanks her for helping him with his school work. Tasia dreams of the two of them being study partners in eighth grade and maybe more than that. For the first time in years Tasia and Asia do not get news that they are moving in the summer, instead they are invited on a trip to Treasure Island by their Uncle Wally. Tasia hopes to see One Direction there and predicts Asia, Mary, and Tasia will have a grand adventure.

The Anti-Socialites Diary 3: Team Misfits has tougher bullies and bigger social problems, but Asia and Tasia handle everything in stride because they're used to being outcasts. As grouping intensifies in middle school and beyond, Asia and Tasia feel fortunate that they always have someone they can talk to in their classes and they're confident that their intelligence will put them on top no matter how badly their peers mistreat them. Despite the harsher social conditions, the twins' display a lot of courage and optimism during all the changes they faced in seventh grade.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Anti-Socialites Diary 2: Middle School Blues by Alicia and Tameka McKenzie

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
130 pages

The second book in The Anti-Socialites' Diaries Diary 2: Middle School Blues opens with Tasia McKinley exclaiming that the new town her family has moved to named Grey Meadows is beautiful and that she and Asia along with their younger sister Mary are having a lot of fun riding their bicycles all summer. It doesn't take long before an instance of bullying occurs with three boys in the neighborhood calling Tasia, Asia, and Mary "Reject Girls." Nevertheless, Tasia hopes that she will fit in during sixth grade at Spartan Middle School.

When school starts Tasia immediately becomes the top student in all of her classes. She is accepted by Dina and Tamina, the coolest girls in sixth grade, who ask her to be a part of their dance group. Unfortunately Tasia is not a very good dancer and is summarily dismissed. She falls for her math classmate Victor Preggioni, but most of the girls in sixth grade like him. Tasia is encouraged by Victor's friendly conversations with her and decides she will compete to win his affection. After Tasia learns that her new friend Robin Delgado likes Victor too she gets a makeover. The makeover is unanimously derided by her peers and even Robin avoids her during this time period. Tasia overhears Victor saying he wouldn't go out with her because of her hair and teeth and realizes he was never worth any of the effort she put in to get his attention. Tasia has a shining moment in her science class when she wins a debate against her science teacher Mr. Alfie about women's contributions to science. Although her classmates are impressed with her reasoning Mr. Alfie punishes her for disrupting the lesson. Soon after this incident Tasia goes on the sixth grade camping trip called Camp Education.

There she encounters "a contentious crustacean" and finishes in last place for all the group camping challenges, but admits she enjoyed her time learning outside. The biggest disappointment of Tasia's school year occurs when she auditions for the lead role of  Freckles in the Spring play Middle School Musical and loses out to Robin. During a school pool trip Victor rescues Tasia from nearly drowning and feels grateful though the cool kids make fun of her kiddie bathing suit. At the end of the school year Tasia wins numerous academic awards from her teachers yet she is snubbed from all the yearbook superlatives. She hilariously claims that she is going to win every yearbook title next school year and plots her "social upgrades." She didn't realize then that she would move again in the summer.

Asia's school year begins with an unexpected physical altercation with a student in her gym class named Mya who was bullying her. The fight is instigated by mean boy Ron Purple who incessantly picks on Asia for no reason. Asia creates the superhero Bookgirl and draws the character in comic books as a protector of nerds and avenger against bullies. She also starts to read fantasy series voraciously, including The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians escape from the reality of Ron's jokes at her expense. In the friendship department Asia has to choose between Coral Nest and Faqua Grabini. Coral dislikes Faqua because she thinks she's too geeky and uncool and tries to make Asia avoid her. Asia succumbs to this scrutiny and limits her interactions with Faqua in between class time at their lockers. Asia feels guilty until she realizes that Coral is not really a true friend when Coral doesn't choose Asia to be on her team for a social studies project. After this Asia and Faqua develop a close friendship where they console each other over their lack of popularity and alienation from their classmates. During their first few weeks together as real friends they work together on an invention project in Woodshop class and have their efforts thwarted by the notorious copycat Mara Wilkes. Asia feels very lonely on Valentine's Day and doesn't attend the school dance because she doesn't have a date while Faqua does have a date. To top it off there are two boys in her Reading class who asks her questions just to make fun of her answers.

By the time the Camp Education trip comes around Asia is relieved and excited until she learns that she will sleep in Cabin D. The rumor about a 200 year old ghost haunting Cabin D looms over the entire experience and culminates on the final evening of the trip when Asia hears a creak after midnight. She catches three students pulling a prank and alerts a teacher. She is rewarded at the closing banquet of the trip. Back at school Asia gets in trouble with a bus driver and the principal for refusing to throw away her gum. While in a bathroom stall during church Asia overhears a conversation between Coral and her enemy Renee where Coral reveals that she wasn't really friends with Asia. In the last month of school the sixth graders have Field Day and play a game of Dare, Double Dare, or Death Dare. China and Sunny invite Asia to play and she agrees to do a Death Dare after Mya taunts her. Her Death Dare is to kiss Clover Mintson, "the dirtiest, most stinky kid in all of Grey Meadows, probably the whole world!" Asia tries to back out, but Mya and her cronies push Asia's face to Clover's cheek causing Asia to have nightmares for days after. When the school year ends Asia and Tasia along with their sisters Gina and Mary are completely shocked to learn that they will be moving back to New York immediately.

Asia and Tasia's transition to middle school is challenging, yet ultimately enlightening as they discover the true meaning of friendship and assert their values in a classroom setting. In tenuous times of a child's social development it is critical that they recognize how to handle situations like being verbally bullied on a regular basis and being ostracized for not wearing the latest fashions, but more importantly Asia and Tasia have to discern the characters of their peers and analyze their own behavior in difficult scenarios. The introspection in this book is evidence of the twins' maturation and what makes Diary 2: Middle School Blues an authentic sequel to Diary 1: The Awkward Beginnings.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Anti-Socialites Diary 1: The Awkward Beginnings by Alicia and Tameka McKenzie

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
170 pages

The first book of The Anti-Socialites' Diaries series
Diary 1: The Awkward Beginnings opens in the month of August with the pronouncement "Our tenth birthday was complete disaster!" thus setting the tone for the many social pitfalls that main characters, twin sisters Asia and Tasia McKinley, face during the upcoming school year. Tasia writes of their expectations for a grand birthday party only to be greeted with the question "Isn't it your birthday?" by their older sister Gina in the afternoon. When their mother comes home with party decorations and a birthday cake they think things will turn around. Unfortunately no one comes to their party except another set of twins who live in the same building. Their only guests leave shortly after their arrival causing Asia and Tasia to cry. The twins view this as a bad omen for fifth grade--their final year at Whitlock Elementary School.

When the school year starts Tasia is concerned about looking fabulous for picture day and decides to do her own hair. It turns out bad and she ends up going to school with her "third grade hair style." While waiting in line for her turn to take a picture Tasia is mocked by her arch nemesis Porscha. A frustrated Tasia plots to "fight back against Porscha and company for the rest of my time here at Whitlock, just watch." Tasia's first opportunity to stand up for herself occurs at the end of October during "The First Annual Fifth Grade Halloween Jam." She is nervous about the mandatory "BOOgie Down Dance-Off",  but she performs a dance routine she learned from her dad in front of her classmates wearing an Orphan Annie costume. By the time she finishes everyone at the dance is laughing at her and Porscha adds insult to injury by calling her out over a microphone. Tasia leaves the dance crying and believes she'll never have a chance to compete with Porscha.

Over the next several months more embarrassing things happen to Tasia including her lying about getting an iPhone 5 for Christmas, but getting caught with a "SlimFlip", and her getting disqualified from the Science Fair after brazenly bragging to Porscha and her friends that she would win first place. After Tasia doesn't get selected to join the school band and chokes up during a choir performance at church, she gets a big breakthrough when she joins her friend Rosalyn and her sister Asia to form the group "The Spotlight Girls" to perform at the Spring Talent Show at the after school center The Spot. On the day of their performance Tasia is shocked to learn that Porscha and her friends Kyle and Zac joined the show in a last minute attempt to upstage The Spotlight Girls. They have a fancy set and expensive props which makes Tasia think that her performance will be overlooked. However, Rosalyn is unfazed and leads The Spotlight Girls to a successful performance and a standing ovation. They even sign a lot of autographs after the show. Tasia does experience additional humiliations by the end of the school year, but she receives a special gift and an important affirmation from her teacher Mrs. Suarez on the last day of school. Tasia reflects on the kindness of her teacher and her friend Ray and decides that the people who supported her were the ones who mattered all along.

Asia's school year starts with her trepidation over participating in the State Spelling Bee. Although she is an excellent speller, she doesn't feel comfortable competing against hundreds of students across New York State, especially not fourteen year-olds. When Asia walks on stage to spell her first word she loses consciousness. Her reputation as a nerd in Ms. Strict's class has now been replaced with the title "The Girl Who Fainted." Asia tries to ignore the chatter by reading books all time until she develops a major crush on her new classmate Marc. She fantasizes that he is her Prince Charming and dreams they'll be together in the near future, but another girl in her class named Natalie, who is pretty and popular, has her sights on Marc too.

While Asia is fuming with jealously over Natalie's flirtatious behavior towards Marc, she ends up being "Santa Partners" with her former crush Roy. Asia still feels animosity for Roy over something he did to her in fourth grade. Roy asks Asia if she wants the last Harry Potter movie for Christmas and Asia starts to believe that Roy has changed. She writes him a poem and gives him the gift he asks for---a month of completed homework, before she discovers that the Harry Potter gift was a hoax; it turns out to be a bootleg Justin Beiber CD. "The Untouchables", an exclusive popular group of fifth graders, all laugh when Natalie reveals the scam and Asia is heartbroken once again. To make matters even worse Ms. Strict announces that Marc has transferred to another school. Asia deals with this disappointment by hanging out with her friends Jill and Victoria, both of whom she has personality conflicts with. Drama ensues after Asia finds a Secret Admirer Card on her desk and Victoria writes a list of all the boys who could've given it to her. Once the boys in Ms. Strict's class find out about the card, they all deny it in ways that make Asia feel unlikable. The truth comes out over a month later during "The 14th Annual Whitlock Elementary Competition." A boy named Chuck explains to everyone in Ms. Strict's class that he used Asia as a subject for his science experiment to determine how low popularity levels effect the spread of gossip. Asia stops talking to her classmates and only hangs out with Rosalyn over the next few weeks. By the end of the school year Asia has a new crush, Simon, who is a friendly member of "The Untouchables" and she reconciles with her friends Jill and Victoria during graduation.

Although Asia and Tasia McKinley deal with their fair share of ridicule and go through numerous embarrassing social events during their final year at Whitlock Elementary School, they both learn the value of true friendship and support. Additionally they learn that it is important to have good character rather than succumb to the pressures of what it takes to be popular in school. There are moments that are very uncomfortable and sad, but the twins' resilience and their intelligence shine through, making them unlikely heroines and role models for young girls.