My overall impression of this book is that it’s a short, sweet story about a girl coming into her own. There are strong themes of true friendship and friendship in the face of bullying, gaining and building self-confidence, and what it really means to win.
For the most part, I think that the author successfully portrays Molly’s character–her thoughts, feelings–with realism and familiarity so that her readers can empathize with the middle school difficulties that Molly faces. In particular, I liked how the author depicts Molly’s friendships with boys. Molly genuinely prefers the company of those guys; she is not particularly girly nor is she necessarily tomboyish or a social rebel, and there’s no artificiality about their friendships. I found a couple of the interactions between Murphy and Molly very funny, especially when you see the guy-girl differences in their best friends relationship (Murphy doesn’t understand secrets, etc.).
I appreciate the way in which the author treats the topics of bullying and self-confidence by introducing the problem in the context of this talent competition, having her characters wade their way through with the help of friends and family (I like how the adults play important support roles and that children are still dependent on them for guidance and advice), and resolving those issues (while it may be unrealistic for Paige to have a complete turn-around, I like how she congratulats Molly and acknowledges Molly’s talent).
The only critiques I have about this book are that it seems very short and ends somewhat abruptly, and the back story to Molly’s mother is somewhat weak. It was nice to end the story on a positive note but I would have liked to have seen the aftermath of all the buildup re: the talent show, Molly’s mother, etc. rather than just end with the talent show. As for Molly’s mother, the story really was a surprise as indicated by Molly’s father’s hesitation to ever discuss the matter. However, the actual revelation was for me kind of a bombshell. I thought that for that kind of revelation, the story needs more father-daughter, mother-daughter discussion (I mean, isn’t this the first time Molly’s heard from her mother since Molly was a baby/toddler?) rather than simply moving on with the talent show story.
In general, I think that this is a good coming-of-age story around the grades 4–6 level in terms of age interest and appropriateness, as it gives a good grasp on tough, albeit normal, issues of self-confidence and recognizing one’s true motivations for doing things.