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A charming tale for newly-confident readers who enjoy well written, more demanding stories with chapters and haunting illustrations.
Elizabeth Laird's family is Scottish but she was born in New Zealand and grew up in Surrey. After studying languages at Bristol & Edinburgh Universities, she worked in Ethiopia and India where she met her husband, David McDowall, a writer on Middle Eastern affairs. They have two children.
Gr 6-8-Without meaning to, Lucy tags Rafaella with the nickname Earwig on her very first day at Dale Road Middle School, and the name sticks. Though Lucy knows she has hurt this stranger, she is too passive to stop the taunting right away, and the girl's ears do stick out. Despite the teasing, Rafaella's initial aloofness, and Lucy's desire to be in with the popular crowd, Lucy is fascinated with the new girl and intrigued by her family, who come from an unidentified foreign country. The girls become secret friends during the hours away from school. Then, just before Christmas, Rafaella tells Lucy that she'll have a surprise for her after the holiday. It is only after Rafaella unexpectedly dies during cosmetic surgery that Lucy realizes how much she likes Rafaella and how badly she has treated her. Lucy's shame and grief come across in spite of the book's lack of engaging conversation, and though the plot is a bit predictable, the message of being proud of and standing up for your friends is no less powerful. The book's brevity and lack of detail might effect how well it captures the attention of the intended audience, but the characters and theme are memorable. Laird's story makes a good companion piece to Mary Downing Hahn's longer and more fleshed-out story on the same theme, Daphne's Book (Clarion, 1983).-Linda Bindner, formerly at Athens Clarke County Library, GA
"Beautifully written, evokes strong emotions" -- Good Book Guide "Conveys so much, so simply and so well" -- The Scotsman
The characters and situations in this novella will likely be painfully familiar to teenage readers. On her first day at Dale Road Middle School, narrator Lucy meets Rafaella, a girl who is shunned by the rest of the class ("What you noticed straight away was her ears. They were large, and stuck out away from her head like bats' ears"). Lucy, on the fringe of the popular crowd, invents the nickname Earwig‘and foreshadows subsequent tragic developments ("I'm going to regret that moment till the day I die"). When Rafaella invites Lucy home for tea, Lucy is too shocked to decline the invitation. In spite of herself, Lucy enjoys Rafaella's company and is intrigued by her exotic family ("Rafaella's parents seemed like magic people to me, and their house was an Aladdin's cave, full of treasures whose meaning I couldn't understand"). The aura of impending doom grows as the camaraderie between the girls strengthens. Rafaella's brother accuses Lucy of being "one of those stuck up kids"‘another sign of what lies ahead. In 10 brief chapters, Laird (Kiss the Dust) crystallizes the mixture of insecurity, grief and guilt suffered by a young teen sensitive enough to understand another child's pain, but not strong enough to stop the chain of events. Although readers may wish for more details about the family lives of both girls, the few unanswered questions are surmounted by the author's ability to keep the novel within Lucy's purview‘and by its realistic resolution. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)