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Melanie in Manhattan    by Carol Weston order for
Melanie in Manhattan
by Carol Weston
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2006 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Ten-year old Melanie Martin, a fifth-grader, opens her adventure, 'Dear Brand-New Diary'. Melanie in Manhattan is one in a series, staged after the Martin family returns from a spring break trip to Spain. In diary-entry format, Weston hits the target on center with realities of pre-teen life, sibling squabbles, and insecurity. Characters include seven-year old Matt, an ALB (Annoying Little Brother) who in turn refers to Melanie as EBS (Evil Big Sister); Mom who teaches art, while Dad is in a slump as his fortieth birthday approaches.

Melanie returns home to New York City to find their two pet mice have multiplied to ten; a new girl at school, Susan (Suze the Ooze) has become chummy with Melanie's best friend Cecily; and classmate Justin is kind of cute ('does he like me?') A disconcerted Melanie learns that Cecily and Suze went so far as getting new bras together and having their ears pierced. Melanie sees Suze as annoying, a friend stealer, an attention-seeker, and a buttinsky into Melanie's business. Most importantly, Melanie awaits IM answers from her male friend in Valencia, Spain. It is unnerving when weeks go by without hearing from Miguel, but at last she does - 'Hello, May Lah Nee! ... I call you because I have my good news ... Uncle Angel has a trip for business to New York after my school year, and my father said that if it is okay with your family, I could visit you for one week ... Would this be possible?' From Melanie's end it is perfecto, fantastico, and seventh heaven!

Melanie treasures the memory of her first kiss from Miguel (on the forehead). ('Is there an average age for a first kiss on the lips?') Then there is Justin who gives Melanie warm feelings ('Is it wrong to like two boys at the same time?'). Justin has IMed Melanie asking if she is going to the Spring Fling, but is he asking her to go with him, or just asking if she is going? Cecily tells Melanie she talks about Miguel too much, and 'You don't know if you'll ever see him again.' There's an ocean between us sure, ponders Melanie, but with Cecily - there's an Oozer between us. In her diary she writes, 'It's hard to care about two boys at the same time', especially when they are from different countries. Melanie is given wise motherly advice about Suze - a quote from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent ... It means you are in charge of your feelings, You can't give other people the power to make you feel bad about yourself. If Suze isn't nice, let that be her problem, not your problem.'

Bright on the horizon is Miguel's upcoming visita, as the Martins plan NYC sites and events to share with Miguel and his uncle - the Empire State Building, the Intrepid, the Met, Broadway, South Street Seaport, Central Park, and a Yankees game. Included are Manhattan's various neighborhoods - Greenwich Village, Soho, Chinatown, and Battery Park City, and definitely boogie boarding at Jones Beach. There is something the Martins, as New Yorkers, have never done - walk the pedestrian crossover of the Brooklyn Bridge (which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan). Dad informs them that when the bridge was built in 1883, residents were skeptical about safety, until 'circus master P.T. Barnum led twenty-one elephants across to prove the bridge's stability and strength'. The most important aspect of Miguel's visit is time alone with him - at the American Museum of Natural History. At the dinosaur display, Melanie and Miguel are staring into each other's eyes, when Suze comes around the corner. She invites them both to her pizza party, and Justin will be there too! Melanie realizes that 'real life is foggier than fiction'.

The Martins take Uncle Angel and Miguel to Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III tells them that 'everyone has a gift'. Melanie thinks of her diary entries and poems, and that night writes wise words, 'When you read a book, the author has figured everything out for you. But when you write a diary - or live your life - you have to figure it out for yourself. It's like you are the author.' Carol Weston's witty, true-to-life Melanie In Manhattan brought reminiscent tears to my eyes, and a smile to my heart. Hers is a perceptive voice for pre-teens.

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