An eighth-grader likes clothes, music and acting, but not having a stepmother
Cinderella Cleaners #3: Rock & Role. By Maya Gold. Scholastic, 173 pp., $5.99 paperback. Ages 8–11.
By Janice Harayda
Are stereotypes of stepmothers making a comeback? You might wonder after dipping into a new preteen-fiction series about a middle-school student who helps out at her family’s dry cleaning shop in Weehawken, NJ.
Thirteen-year-old Diana Donato loves clothes, music, acting and her three best friends. But she wishes her kind-hearted father had never married her stepmother, Fay, who “always says no.”
In Rock & Role, Diana gets a chance to try out for a music video when, on her way to make a delivery for Cinderella Cleaners, she meets a 16-year-old pop star. Will her stepmother thwart her hopes? Fay is so bland that she turns out to be less of an obstacle than the questionable judgment Diana sometimes shows while pursuing a role in the video.
But the outcome is never really in doubt. Rock & Role is Cinderella story on more than one level. Apart from her unwelcome stepmother and her overindulged stepsisters, Diana has a counterpart to the industrious mice in Cinderella – a friendly tailor at Cinderella Cleaners who whips up a vest for her to wear in the video. Rock & Role is also as sanitized as 1950s Disney movie, a novel free of sex, profanity and descriptions of the adolescent body changes that some preteens have been reading about for years in Judy Blume. And yet, on its own terms – which are the terms of literary fast food – it has more going for it many similar books. Diana is an upbeat, hardworking eighth-grader who has goals and faith in her ability to achieve them. She knows brand names – Converse, Hollister, iPod – without being obsessed with them. Her friends aren’t mean-spirited.
Even so, you wish Maya Gold had tried harder to avoid stereotypes, and not just of evil stepmothers. Diana’s friend Sara Parvati, whose family comes from India, gets straight A’s in school. Literary images of brainy Asian children may not be damaging as ethic slurs, but they’re still stereotypes. And equal opportunity won’t exist in children’s books until young Indian, Korean and Japanese characters have the same freedom that others do – the right, at times, to be mediocre students.
Best line: “Now it’s like we’re stuck halfway out on this wobbly bridge between Just Friends and We’re Going Out …”
Worst line: “Sara gets straight A’s and once won a regional spelling bee.” Again, are any Asians in children’s fiction not brainy (or, alternately, computer geeks)?
Published: June 2010
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© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.