The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight. Read by Reba Buhr. Greenwillow Books, 2020. ISBN 978-0062668332. Listened to audiobook on Hoopla.
Middle schooler Ali has just moved back to the small town on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick that her father left years ago. She’s excited to be able to spent more time with her great grandmother GiGi, whose hundredth birthday is approaching, but much less excited about the constant fog and making friends in the latest of a string of new schools. She’s developed lots of rules to help her fit in, essentially doing her best to copy whatever the popular kids at the latest school do and like. But for the first time, her rules are getting her into trouble – causing jealousy between a popular and a geekier girl both of whom Ali likes. And it leads her to join the debate team, even though she has anxiety about public speaking and much prefers swimming.
When Ali begins to develop her family’s hereditary copycat powers, things are kicked into higher gear. Suddenly she’s trying to manage transforming into animals or lookalikes of her classmate without really meaning to. She also meets a cousin for the first time – a cousin she’d never met because of a family tragedy that divided Gigi’s family in two. Can Ali manage both her social and magical lives, and find a way to reunite her family before Gigi’s birthday?
This is a great book for kids who like some magic with their stories of school and family troubles. Ali’s father has never been able to hold down a steady job with her mother working long shifts as a nursing home aide to compensate, though they never quite make ends meet. These looks both at working poverty and at a strained but still loving relationship between the parents are both pretty rare. Because of the high correlation between Ali’s coping strategies and her magic skills, I could see this one being used in classrooms or by school social workers, though my daughter listened to a little bit near the end with me and then went back to listen to the whole book.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.