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This book is about Carmen, but to understand her you first need to know about her family. There's her mother, who is quite laid back when it comes to all things school, but rather obsessed with looks (despite being the kind of person to drive everywhere, and get winded walking up a flight of stairs). There's her Nan, who used to live with them and always encouraged Carmen's talent, perhaps to an embarrassing extent. Still, it's good to have support. And there's her father, who we don't know much about. But then, neither does Carmen.
As for the girl herself, well she's reasonably happy in school with good friends Josh and Indy around her, and she has big dreams for her big voice. Unfortunately, some of the other girls at school also think she has a big bottom and belly to match. And, well, you know how mean teenage girls can be. One comment throws Carmen over the edge and out of the school gates. Will she ever be able to return? Will she have the nerve to take part in the talent contest, which started all this fuss? Will her mother finally be able to see beyond the aesthetic, and be proud of her beautiful, talented daughter within?
Jean Ure writes solidly entertaining children's books that have stood the test of time (in other words...I was reading her earlier work a good 20 years ago). This title is no exception, with a perfect mix of teen angst, school issues and family drama. Carmen's voice is authentic without being over the top with teen lingo or txt spk - she's simply a nice, normal girl trying to do well in the world despite the concerted efforts of those school bullies, and a loving though distracted mother.
Being famous is all the rage these days - I saw a frightful study recently about the jobs children aspire to, and reality TV star and pop star were both on there. What makes this book so special is that Carmen is passionate about singing because, and here's a novel idea, she likes to sing. She does it for herself, not for anyone else, and doesn't go round trying to get noticed, nor does she toot her own horn about her talents. Beautifully unabashed, she doesn't even realise quite how good she is. It's really rather refreshing.
The body issues ('voice for the record shop, body for radio' springs to mind) are touched on but not to an obsessive degree. We don't have any hint of dieting or unhealthy habits thrown in as Carmen is not all that unhappy being a little bit bigger than some of the other girls in Year 8, until said girls start with the catty comments that is. The moral of the story, loosely that it's what inside that counts, is not a bad one for a tween book and comes across clearly, and I'm very glad the story didn't go down the common ugly duckling becoming a swan route because that just negates all the talk about looks not being important. Carmen may be transformed by the final chapter, but her BMI hasn't changed a fraction.
Recommended for the divas and ordinary girls out there, who could use a nice, normal role model.
This review first appeared on The Bookbag. Published 3 years ago, this book is now easy to find used and cheap.