OMG, CLASSIC! I read the shit out this one. Rereading it, it still held up as a good book. Although thinking about it, it is a little bit of a ripoff of Blubber. Barthe is one of those children’s authors that does a great job of writing from a children’s perspective without being condescending or childish, if that makes sense. She doesn’t need to launch into a lot of background about characters, but builds the characters based on dialogue and action.
Jenny is the main character, and she has two best friends, Diane and Sharon. Diane is a sassypants and is a bit cranky and mouths off to adults and tends to be moody. In other words, she rules. Sharon is kind of an ass and she and Jenny are not always on good terms because Sharon always talks about what her mother thinks.
Elsie is the new girl at school, and everyone is horrified because she is really fat. The way they describe it, they probably mean morbidly obese. (Although she barely looks chubby on the cover.) She is also unfriendly and steals food from other people. She is on a strict diet and the principal and the teacher talk about it in front of the whole class which was totally asinine. Elsie is also mean and standoffish and immediately she starts getting made fun of. Soon people’s lunch money gets stolen and Jenny catches Elsie buying junk food with it because she is not allowed to have money of her own.
One day in front of the class Elsie’s pants fall down and she runs to the bathroom. Jenny, taking the high road, goes and comforts her and tries to realize that something else is going on with Elsie because she seems so unhealthy. Jenny has Elsie tutor her in math to earn back the money she stole.
We learn that Elsie eats because her home life sucks. Her parents got divorced and her mother kind of ignores her and favors her other sister. I think it is Emily’s stepmother Karen in a former life. Jenny convinces Sharon and Diane to befriend Elsie too, and they hang out and have fun because it turns out Elsie is cool and one of the smarter kids in the class.
One afternoon, they decide to hitchhike to a carnival and they get on a flatbed truck and in a fit of panic jump off at a red light but accidentally leave Elsie’s little sister on the trunk. They have to call the police and Elsie is pretty sure her mom will flip out and send her away to boarding school or something. But Jenny has her mom call Elsie’s mom to talk to her but Elsie’s mom is a total Scorpian Woman.
Finally their teacher talks to Elsie’s mom and she gets to stay and all is well in friendship land. The last scene of the book, Elsie proclaims that she can actually see her feet for the first time in a long time because she’s losing weight.
I know there are a couple of sequels dealing with Elsie, and it turns into all about boyfriends and such. As most YA novels do. Blah.