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Best friends Kimberly and Ann both have a dream to make it to the National Spelling Bee in Eighth grade is the last year they can qualify, so they are practicing day and night. But when Ann is assigned to sponsor new student Lurlene Brueggemeyer, who turns out to be an amazing speller, suddenly her relationship with Kimberly and her chances of winning the competition are put to the test. If the three girls end up competing against each other for the prize, that can spell only one thing... t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Conflicts multiply as three eighth-grade classmates vie to make it to the Colorado state spelling bee. Will the winner be Kimberly with the pushy parents and brilliant spelling ability? Or Ann, whose secure world has been shaken by her parents' rancorous divorce? Or Lurlene, the miserably out-of-place, home-schooled student from South Dakota who wears braids and knee socks? Actually, this is just the scaffolding of this minor but solid book, whose interior plot has far more to do with trying to spell out feelings than spelling words. Peters (The Stinky Sneakers Contest) skillfully interweaves the competition with a story of friendship and shifting alliances. Ann, asked to show Lurlene around, first tries to think of ways to escape the odd, clumsy new girl. But when everyone ridicules Lurlene as a "geek," Ann realizes not only who her own real friends are, but that she can be a better person than she imagined. Believable dialogue testifies to the casual cruelty and stumbling kindnesses of middle-schoolers, as well as their saving humor. Ages 8-12.