The Dirt Diary, by Anna Staniszewski

The Dirt Diary, the first book in Anna Staniszewski's latest series for middle readers, centers around eighth-grader Rachel Lee, a shy, awkward girl with a passion for baking. When her parents split up, Rachel steals nearly $300 from her college fund and buys a plane ticket to Florida, hoping to fly down and talk some sense into her loving but flighty father. Rachel needs to replace the money before her mother finds out, so she zeroes in on two sources of income: winning the $100 first prize at her school's annual baking contest, and working part-time for her mom's cleaning company. Cleaning houses is rough, particularly when the school's resident Mean Girl finds out, but there's a silver lining—Rachel is suddenly getting a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the richest kids in town.

The Dirt Diary follows the same path as many a Disney sitcom: a creative, fundamentally goodhearted kid makes some mistakes, alienates her friends, learns a lesson, and everybody reconciles. That might sound dismissive, but it's not meant to be—Disney shows attract viewers because they're consistently fun, wholesome, and easy to understand. It does, however, limit this story's appeal to a specific age group. The publisher's official age range is 10 to 14, but I think Staniszewski's book will really speak to 10- to 12-year-olds: kids who are old enough to be interested in dramatic, emotion-driven stories, but not yet at an age where they're comparing it to whatever dystopian or romantic YA series is trendiest at the moment.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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