Mikey and Margalo both have the same initials – ME – but otherwise they appear to be very different. Mikey’s an only child, a tomboy, and not afraid to let people know that she is a very angry person. Margalo is one of many, many kids in her house, is more girly, and seems to be nice. But inside, they’re just the same: bad girls.
The first in a series by Cynthia Voigt, this book chronicles the tumultuous fifth grade year of Mikey and Margalo. The two girls are anything but nice. They purposefully manipulate their classmates, setting out with the stated goal of seeing if they can do things just to prove they can. At first glance, the book would seem just another Clique or Gossip Girl sort of story. But it was written more than ten years ago (as a handful of dated references will show) and it has more depth than those series. Mikey and Margalo are two separate people, with different voices and different motivations. Despite their similar names, the reader will never confuse the two girls. While the girls are mean – and they can be very mean, particularly towards the end when they are trying to get revenge on a girl who was devastatingly mean to them first – there is less a sense of malice and spite, and more a sense that the girls are simply reveling in their sense of power. These are children who have no sense of power over their own lives, and are therefore forced to seek a sense of control elsewhere.
Certainly some parents will be upset at the lengths the students go to get back at each other. But up until the end of the story, when revenge blinds common sense, most of the activity in the book is fairly typical of a fifth grade or middle school classroom. The manipulation is fairly benign, trying to start a soccer club, or get a boy returned to their room. The juxtaposition of the two girls with a bullying boy is an interesting one. No one seems to question the boy’s power, or his right to exert it. While the author never makes overt comparisons to the ways in which the girls are pigeonholed as “nice” or “mean” while the bullying boy is the most popular boy in the class, the reader can easily see the lines being drawn.
This book is not always an easy read, or one with easy answers. The characters are sympathetic, but not always likeable.