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Gertie's Leap to Greatness: 09/08/19
Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley follows the trend of a middle grade protagonist trying to be the BEST at something to get the attention or love from an absent family member. Here it's Gertie who lives with aunt and father who wants to get her mother's affection before she moves out of town with her new family.
The weird thing about this book's set up is that the mother has been separated from Gertie's family since Gertie's birth. Gertie has known where her mother moved in town and even knows of her mother's new family. She's ok with the situation until her mother puts her house up for sale.
Now being the best — Gertie choses to be the best student / teacher's pet — is going to be her way of convincing her mother to stay in town. It's an odd disconnect between the situation (absent mother leaving) and the proposed solution (being the top student).
Of course in this sort of story, it can't just be a matter of the main character working hard to get the top. There has to be a foil. For Gertie, it's a transplanted Californian named Mary Sue Spivey. With a name like that in a book like this, you know Mary Sue is going to be perfect — annoyingly so. And she is.
Mary Sue besides being a better student than Gertie, is also a gentrified environmentalist. She is the embodiment of white middle class and completely at odds with Gertie's situation — with a father who spends most of his time working on an oil rig.
Frankly the conflict between Mary Sue and Gertie over the oil rig is the most interesting aspect of the book. It would have been a stronger story if Gertie had been the best student in the class just for the sheer joy of it, and then been pushed out by someone from a better school.