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Book Review

This coming-of-age novel by K. D. McCrite is the second in the " Confessions of April Grace" series published by Tommy Nelson, a division of Thomas Nelson Inc.

Cliques, Hicks, and Ugly Sticks is written for kids ages 7 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

April Grace Reilly is a red-haired 11-year-old who lives on a dairy farm in the Arkansas Ozarks with her parents and 14-year-old sister, Myra Sue. Her grandma lives nearby, too. The start of the school year is under way, and April Grace is excited to be back with her sixth-grade friends — until she discovers that some of them are no longer friendly. A new clique, established by one of her former good friends, collectively looks down their noses on those who ride bus No. 9 instead of bus No. 7. So for April Grace, who rides bus No. 9, junior high is not off to a good start.

Isabel and Ian, a married couple introduced in the first book of the series, are still living with the Reillys, and Isabel is recovering from a car accident in which she received a concussion, broken nose, broken leg and cracked ribs. They continue to work to restore their own home to make it habitable. In book one, In Front of God and Everybody, April Grace and Isabel had agreed to turn over a new leaf and start being kind, since both tend to be insensitive to others. Book two leads the reader to believe that April Grace is only mildly successful as she refers to Isabel as a pain in everybody's neck, spoiled and unattractive.

While visiting Isabel at the hospital, April Grace noticed that her mother's hands and face were puffy. And at home, her previously energetic mother has been off her feet more and is even taking long naps. This causes concern until April Grace's parents announce to their daughters that their mother is pregnant. The girls are relieved to know that Mama isn't suffering from a fatal disease, but they are not thrilled at the idea of having a baby in the house — one who is likely to grab all the attention they are accustomed to getting. April Grace's mother also receives a diagnosis that she has preeclampsia, and the doctor orders bed rest for her for the duration of her pregnancy.

Unable to leave home except to keep doctor appointments, Mama is in a quandary over preparations for the church's annual Christmas play that she always directs. April Grace thinks that Isabel would be a perfect fit as director. The family meets with their pastor to introduce Isabel and discuss the idea. Since the pastor has already met Isabel at the hospital and observed her callous interaction with staff, he is reluctant to let her interact with the church's youth group, yet he finally concedes since April Grace and her sister will be available to help.

To improve her daughter-in-law's quality of rest, Grandma offers to move into her granddaughter's bedroom and let Ian and Isabel live in her house so that April Grace's parents can return to their own room. Everyone agrees to that plan, even though it means April Grace will have to keep sharing her room with her older sister, Myra Sue. But then she is delighted when her parents decide to let her sister stay with and help Ian and Isabel for a time since Isabel is still recovering from her car accident.

Not surprisingly, Isabel, because of her professional background as an actress and dancer, takes a different approach in directing the Christmas play. She conducts auditions and sets expectations that each teen will be on time, never miss a rehearsal and stay until released. Her unbending attitude scares them all. April Grace convinces her to soften her manner a little. Isabel is bent on making the play as successful as she can with the many limitations that exist in the church sanctuary. She assigns to April Grace, who had no intention of acting in the play, a primary part whose character is bossy and mean. She is a natural for the role. The play is a resounding success, and Isabel praises the young people for how well they did.

Ian and Isabel's old house is now completely restored with the help of Mr. Reilly and some men from the church. They are warmed by the generosity of the church people and community folk who helped furnish their house.

The next day, April Grace stays home from church to be with her mother, who she correctly perceived did not look well, even though she insisted she was fine. Everyone else, including Ian and Isabel, has gone to church for the morning. April gets a Nancy Drew book to read at her mother's bedside, but then she notices that Mama is gripping the covers and not doing well at all. April Grace decides to call an ambulance, and they both head to the hospital where they are met by family and friends. April Grace's new baby brother is born prematurely, but both he and Mama are doing fine. Though April Grace and her sister were fearful of how he would change their lives, they are smitten with him. Mama returns home in time for Christmas. Baby brother, Eli, has to stay in the hospital but is brought home in time to start the new year — 1987.

Christian Beliefs

The family attends worship and Sunday school each week. The pastor and the Reillys gather for prayer in the hospital waiting area, while the medical staff provides care for Mama. When Ian tells the family that he and Isabel would like to attend church one Sunday, Myra Sue lets Isabel know how wonderful that would be. If they go, everyone would see how beautiful Isabel is, Myra Sue says. Mama gently corrects her, telling her that there are many good reasons to attend church. Isabel agrees with Myra Sue — that it would be good for the church people to witness style and grace before she holds auditions. Mama responds by saying, "That's a lovely idea," showing a generosity of spirit toward Isabel. The pastor tells April Grace that God provides strength when times are tough, and He is with us all the time.

Other Belief Systems

Temple, the aging hippie neighbor, rests with her hands palms-up in her lap and meditates in the hospital waiting area. April Grace says she wishes she could do the same thing.

Authority Roles

April Grace's mother, a model of Christian virtue, is a little out of sorts in the beginning of her pregnancy, and the reader glimpses some of her humanness when she snaps at her family or becomes frustrated. But she is quick to realize her faults and apologize for them. She is the uncomplaining sort, but April Grace's mother places herself and her unborn child in danger when she insists she is fine when she is not. April Grace's parents assure the girls of their love for each other and that they would never divorce. They allow Myra Sue to stay with Ian and Isabel at Grandma's house for a short time in spite of the negative influence of Isabel.

Grandma has a close relationship with her son's family, especially April Grace. Her love life is often under discussion, this time because she's simultaneously dating two men. April Grace feels like she's risking her life to ride in Grandma's car. She was riding along when Grandma's car ran off the road and onto the shoulder because her grandmother was waving at someone. She tells the family that love, family and friends are all that matter when everything else is lost. When April Grace asks Grandma if she would home school her, Grandma wisely realizes her shortcomings and answers no.

Though Isabel’s character is slightly more caring than how she was in the first book, she still has some serious flaws — attention to the external and not the internal, pride and an inability to empathize. These come out when she becomes the director of the Christmas play and is in authority over the children acting in it. Ian and Isabel are supportive and comforting to the Reilly girls when their father whisks Mama off to the hospital.

Profanity/Violence

Words used include barfing, urp, hurl, sheesh, dork, brat, geek, pest of the South, good gravy, good grief, worm, doofus, dipstick (with the emphasis on dip) and stinkpot.

Any violence that happens is in April Grace's mind when she imagines what she would do to retaliate. Many of her solutions, though they do not come to fruition, tend toward acts of violence. For example, she infers that if the boy at school keeps calling her a foxy babe, she will give him two black eyes. At the Christmas play rehearsal, she tells the same boy, her hands fisted, that if he even tries to kiss her, she will slug him. She initially assumes that Ian has punched Isabel in both eyes before realizing it's eye makeup.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

A boy in April Grace's homeroom winks at her and calls her baby, foxy babe and hot stuff. In the Christmas play, he has the role of a husband, while April Grace has the role of his wife, and he suggests to Isabel that they kiss to make the scene more realistic. April Grace's sister calls their pastor, who is a bachelor, hunky. April Grace's parents smooch on the porch. Grandma has two boyfriends at the same time. The fact that Grandma kisses her boyfriends is brought out by a discussion of a cold virus she has and from whom she caught it and to whom she might pass it. Temple, a neighbor, kisses April Grace all over her face after the Christmas play ends.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Consider what Ian says to April Grace about people who are in cliques and make fun of others.
  • Have you ever been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment?
  • Have you ever been in a clique?
  • Who does a clique include?
  • How does a clique leave people out?
  • What might be a godly way to respond if someone wanted you to be a part of a clique?
  • Why would it be hard to say something like that?

  • April Grace says that her Sunday school teacher expects her class to sit still and pay attention, just like she's a "real" teacher.

  • What is your Sunday school like?
  • Do the students behave?
  • What is one way your Sunday school could be improved?
  • What is one way you could help your Sunday school teacher?

  • April Grace says Lottie needs a good dose of church because she's been mean to people.

  • Is April Grace ever mean to people?
  • Read Matthew 7:4. How does this apply to April Grace?

  • Myra Sue continues to idolize Isabel, as she did in the first book.

  • How is this a danger for Myra Sue?
  • How is it problematic for Isabel?
  • Does Isabel recognize the influence she has on Myra Sue? Explain.
  • Who is someone you'd like to be like?
  • How do you keep from idolizing this person?

Additional Comments/Notes

Sarcasm: Intended to convey humor, April Grace's character is sarcastic. When she does not like someone, April Grace prefaces the person’s name with "ole." So there is "ole Isabel," "ole Myra Sue," "ole J.H. Henry" and so on.

Vices: Isabel smokes cigarettes, though she was trying to quit at the end of the first book.

TV/literary mentions: As You Like It, Head Into the Wind, Nancy Drew: The Clue in the Diary, "Little House on the Prairie," “The Waltons,” “Dallas,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Dynasty,” “Miami Vice,” “Leave It to Beaver.” Myra Sue suggests to Mama that her mother watch soap operas with her and Grandma for entertainment while she is on bed rest all winter.

Lying: April Grace visits Isabel in the hospital, knowing that she is 11 (almost 12), and the minimum age is 12. Mama goes along with it. Grandma tells April Grace she cannot have any chocolate candy until after dinner. When Grandma leaves the room to answer the doorbell, April Grace sneaks two pieces, starts eating one, and then hides the rest in her lap when Grandma returns. She later gives the second piece to Mama.

Eavesdropping: As an aside to the reader, April Grace admits that she eavesdrops because that is how she finds out information that adults don't want her to know.

Anorexia: Anorexia nervosa was a prominent topic in the first book, when Myra Sue becomes anorexic because of Isabel’s influence. In this book, the reader only has a glimpse of the issue. When Myra Sue learns her mother is pregnant, she says Isabel would never do such a low-class thing and ruin her figure. Myra Sue reveals her mistaken attitude about weight in this comment. Another time, Isabel encourages Myra Sue to eat her oatmeal because it's good for her.


This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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