Newbery Project – Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, and me, Elizabeth

I quite liked this book, which won a 1968 Newbery Honor, more so than the winner that year – which was also by the extremely talented and apparently very quick writer E.L. Konigsburg. I realize I’m probably very much in the minority, but I’ve never liked From the Mixed Up Files. It’s been a number of years since I’ve read that one, so I’m not sure how they compare in being distinguished literature, but this one was, for me personally, more fun to read.

I would have realized it was from the sixties, even if I hadn’t looked it up. There were some dated references. Only fathers have jobs. A kid dresses up as cigarettes for halloween. When a candy plant makes the air smell of mint, Elizabeth is excited that she can “pretend to be smoking a menthol cigarette.” But while some of these small details are dated, the story, about a complex relationship between a somewhat lonely girl and a controlling friend is timeless. I liked that in the end it was clear that Elizabeth had taken a more equal role in the friendship, but that Jennifer was still Jennifer.

I especially liked the analogy where Elizabeth’s father says that even though 98.6 is the “normal” temperature, many people are higher or lower than that, and then Elizabeth is proud that she’s not 98.6.

I was surprised when I got to the Christmas show and Jennifer’s mother was easily identified as being the only Black mother in the room. I was listening to an audiobook, so the illustrations had not told me that Jennifer was black. The implication is that she’s the only black student in the entire school. I’m not sure what racial overtones that gives the story, where Jennifer’s favorite food is watermelon, she says she’s a witch, and is noted several times as having no manners. Does Elizabeth more readily believe that Jennifer really is a witch because she is an exotic Other in a school where she is the only black student?

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