Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind Book Review

Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind by Valerie Hobbs
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
August 7, 2012

Sixth-grader, Minnie McClary, is the new girl at school, a bright student who is searching for answers. Why did her dad become a whistle blower at work? Why is her Uncle building a helicopter in the basement? Is her Uncle crazy? Why did her brother become so mean when he turned thirteen? When Minnie's language arts class gets a new unconventional teacher, Minnie is encouraged to ask her questions, but terrified of what will happen if she does. While Minnie and her classmate Amira adore Miss Marks, others are questioning Miss Marks' teaching methods and more. Minnie soon finds herself in the middle of a heated debate that will require her to not only ask questions, but to seek the answers, no matter how hard they may be.

Hobbs has managed to squeeze a little bit of everything into this middle grade novel, making it cleverly didactic and sometimes a little too charming.  There is the war hero Uncle living in the basement suffering from PTSD. Her new friend Amira who is Muslim and wears a headscarf and deals with prejudice every day. Her father who lost his job while doing what was right, resulting in the family downsizing and her parents continual fighting. A community of parents who dislike Miss Marks based on the fact that she wears jeans while teaching, has piercings, and a tattoo on her ankle...a tattoo of a rainbow.

Minnie is dealing with a lot and I imagine there are many kids out there dealing with many situations like hers. An unemployed parent, changes in the family dynamic, prejudice and bullying at school and online, bodily and psychological changes, a crisis of belief, and a crushing need to get answers, to change the world. Minnie's fears felt very real to me and I enjoyed her path of self-discovery.

On the other hand, the reader can't miss the "messages" Hobbs is throwing out like bricks. This resulted in a teacher who was far too perfect, a teacher who I think most teachers wish they were like, but I imagine many are not. It made me wonder if this wasn't one of those books where teachers would love it and kids might like it. After all, what progressive parent or teacher wouldn't want their kids to read a book with such a wholesome message? On that note, I think parents who are like some of the ones at the school board meeting portrayed at the end of the novel, will absolutely hate it and want their children to avoid this book at all costs. Hint: These are the kind of parents who ban certain books from being read and want teachers to be fired because they may or may not be gay.

Minnie does, in the end, speak her mind, but it all felt too much like the end was wrapped in a bow. Everything worked it, everyone got better, all the relationships improves, and although the message was a hopeful one, it wasn't very realistic. This one is definitely one book that I think adults will like a whole lot more than kids will.