Abigail Walker just doesn’t fit in.
She says the wrong things. Her mom doesn’t pack her the right lunches. And she’s never going to weigh eighty-eight pounds, like the medium girls do. From their hair to their grades to their sizes, the other girls are medium, no matter how you slice it. Abby wants to be too. So no one is more surprised than she is when she takes a stand against a very mean, very medium remark.
But whether she meant to do it or not, she has crossed a line she won’t be able to cross back over. And while trying to avoid the now mean medium girls, Abby, coaxed along by a mysterious dog and an even more mysterious fox, crosses over something else, a stream that she never knew existed. On the other side she discovers a family: Anders and his dad, Matt, who’s returned from the war in Iraq a shell of his former self. Anders wants her help to put his dad back together again — which might just be exactly what Abby needs too.
Reviews for The Second Life of Abigail Walker
From The New York Times Book Review
What’s wonderful is how Dowell, the author of several beloved books for tweens and teenagers including the Edgar-winning “Dovey Coe,” gracefully draws the many concentric circles of Abby’s life. (August 23, 2012) (more)
Dowell masterfully handles the hot button topic of bullying and will have readers contemplating the pettiness and self-loathing that supports it. Beating at the triumphant heart of the book is Abigail’s realization that life is fullest when experienced genuinely. This is a story of Abigail’s crossings: crossing a computer lab to make a friend; crossing a street to find peaceful isolation; crossing a creek to escape a tormentor; and crossing all the lines drawn to prevent her from feeling alive inside. A timely and heartening book for today’s middle schoolers.
From Publisher’s Weekly
In a powerful story about learning to be proud of one’s true self and rising above bullies, sixth-grader Abby is sick of the “medium girls,” who weigh the right amount and say all the right things, and of her parents, who are on her case about dieting and fitting in. She is even more tired of her own efforts to stay in the clique’s good graces. One day Abby walks away from their taunts, a small step that takes her life in a new direction. A fox bites her, and she follows a dog across a creek where she meets eight-year-old Anders and his father, who is recovering from serving in Iraq. They invite her to help with a research project, which leads to new friends at school and unexpected happiness. Occasional chapters follow the fox Abby meets, whose story is slowly revealed as it intersects with Abby’s. Dowell (Ten Miles Past Normal) creates a sympathetic and honest heroine with a flair for drama, humor, and creativity, and she resists a tidy ending in a novel that feels both timeless and entirely of-the-moment. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
From Kirkus Reviews
When Abby’s one-time friend whispers to her, “You’re dead,” Abby knows it’s true. Maybe not dead physically, but dying inside. Avoiding Georgia and Kristen, who make snarky remarks about her weight in the lunchroom, the sixth-grader makes new friends, including two Indian-American boys whose easy tolerance is refreshing. Fleeing a home visit by the two bullying girls, she meets 9-year-old Anders, whose father is also dying inside. The Iraq War veteran is frightened by much of the peaceful world of the family horse farm, where he waits for space in a VA hospital. For “Tubby Abby,” farm visits are both physically and emotionally helpful. As she did in The Secret Language of Girls (2004) and its sequel, The Kind of Friends We Used to Be (2009), Dowell weaves themes of friendship and personal growth into a rich and complex narrative. A third story strand follows the desert fox Abby meets in the overgrown lot across the street from her house, adding a fantasy element and further connections. Like the fox in the Wendell Barry epigraph, some of Abby’s tracks are in the wrong direction. But her resurrection is satisfying. Middle school mean girls are not uncommon, in fiction or in life, but seldom has an author so successfully defeated them without leaving her protagonist or her reader feeling a little bit mean herself. (June 15, 2012)
From School Library Journal
This novel about a character finding her place even if it isn’t what she imagined for herself is a great addition to collections on character building.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker
A Novel by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 2012
Hardcover, 240 pages
Grades: 3 – 7