Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Flip-Flop Girl

Flip-Flop Girl

Katherine Paterson
For ages 10 to 12
Puffin, 1996   ISBN: 978-0140376791

Vinne Matthews is angry and grieving. Her beloved father has died of cancer and now her mother is moving Vinne and her brother Mason to the small town of Brownsville, Virginia so that they can all live with their grandmother. The family is poor now and staying with Grandma means that they won't have to pay any rent.

As if this isn't bad enough, Vinnie's five year old brother Mason has stopped talking. He stopped on the day of Daddy's funeral and he has not said a word since. Vinnie knows all too well that it was her own words, spoken in anger and pain, which got Mason into this state in the first place but she is not willing to tell anyone. Instead, she suffers in an angry silence as Mason gets all their mother's attention. Vinnie is sure that Mason could talk if he wanted to. He just won't because he wants everyone to feel sorry for him.

Brownsville isn't all brown but it is a gloomy place. Vinnie's new school depresses her and she doesn't feel at all comfortable there. The only good thing about the place is her teacher, Mr. Clayton. Mr. Clayton treats Vinnie with kindness and he makes her feel special. Vinnie even begins to think that one day she will marry this good man who makes her school life bearable.

Vinnie soon discovers that there is another person in her class who doesn't fit in. Lupe Mahoney wears clothes that are even shabbier than Vinnie's, and she always has a pair of bright orange flip-flops on her feet. She lives with her old grandmother in a shack on the edge of a pumpkin field, and Lupe's father has been imprisoned for killing her mother.

Lupe makes Vinnie nervous and she tries to keep the strange girl at a distance. After all, what if she is violent like her father? But Lupe does not seem to mind Vinnie's wary attitude. She watches out for both Vinnie and Mason when things do wrong. Somehow she seems to know what is going on, and it doesn't faze her one little bit.

In this sometimes upsetting story Katherine Patterson perfectly captures the pain that a young child feels when her father dies. His loss is, in itself, a terrible blow for the child, but then there are all the other changes that follow, which make things so much worse: the lack of money, a move, and problems within the family brought about by the death of the father. Vinnie feels betrayed, lonely, hurt, and angry - as any child would feel under these circumstances - and Katherine Patterson gets inside her mind and heart to show us what it feels like to Vinnie. Katherine Patterson also shows us how prejudiced people can be towards others who have had problems in their family life. Because of what happened between her parents, Lupe is feared, avoided, and singled out when things go amiss. Bravely she holds her head high and keeps on going, but underneath she is hurting. Her experiences makes her sensitive enough to recognize pain in others when she sees it.

Brilliantly written and powerfully told, this is yet another unforgettable book by the author who gave us The Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins.