Review: Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind by Valerie Hobbs

Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind by Valerie Hobbs. Frances Foster Books, 2012. Currently available.

Genre: Middle grade realistic fiction.

9780374324964Face Value: This cover caught my attention from across a room. I was speed-walking through the library to the YA section to pick up something comforting like a Sarah Dessen or Maureen Johnson novel, and this cover stopped me in my tracks. It so clearly conveys empowerment. I love it.

Does it break the slate? Yes! Minnie is on the cusp of adolescence and she is struggling with challenges that any twelve year old would understand. She finds issues that matter to her and she speaks out, despite her extreme discomfort with public expression. There’s also a terrific Slatebreaking teacher character, Miss Marks, a female character who not only breaks the slate but also trains future Slatebreakers.

Who would we give it to? Girls who are afraid of public speaking. Minnie’s struggle with speaking in front of groups is beautifully captured in Hobbs’s writing. Every tremor and cold bead of sweat is reflected in the narrative of Minnie’s self-doubt. Her baby steps toward self-confidence will encourage readers who experience the same fear.

Review: I am so excited about this novel because it was a completely unexpected surprise. I have never read any of Hobbs’s work before, and I simply stumbled upon this book at the library. Many books that I find in this way turn out to be merely ok. Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind was much more than ok. It was excellent.

I was wary at first because Hobbs introduced so many factors that could have rapidly turned this book into an afterschool special. It’s Minnie’s first year in a new town and school. Her dad lost his job. Her parents are fighting. Her mom has a new job. Her uncle is an Iraq War veteran with PTSD. Her new teacher is subversive. Her new friend is a Muslim. There are issues with bullying and prejudice at her school. All of that sounds like a lot to tackle in 215 pages, right? But Hobbs does a nice job of weaving these elements together into a story that makes perfect sense.

The most intriguing character relationship is that between Minnie and her uncle. He is
still rattled by war, and he is unable to function in the ways that other adults expect him to. Minnie, however, doesn’t have those expectations for her uncle. She’s just trying to understand why he is so different from others, and why he struggles to do the things her parents do everyday. The conversations between Minnie and her uncle are sweet and genuine. It’s a type of relationship that isn’t commonly explored in middle grade fiction, and I commend Hobbs for exploring it in this story.

I mentioned it before, but I just have to say again how awesome Miss Marks is. She’s the fictional version of the kind of teacher I would love to be. She challenges her students to ask questions. She pushes the boundaries of the “grade appropriste reading list.” And most importantly, she allows her students to get to know her as a passionate citizen. I was also was grateful that she wasn’t depicted as superhuman. When faced with the possibility of losing her job, she faltered. She temporarily disguised her true self in order to be more accepted…but then quickly abandoned that when it just didn’t feel right.

Miss Marks is a wonderful, Slatebreaking complement to Minnie. This book is a valuable addition to any shelf because it features characters who demonstrate what it looks like to be Slatebreaking at two different stages of life. Readers can think about ways they can change their behavior now to make an impact in the community, as well as what that might look like as they grow into adulthood.

Reviewed from library copy.

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