Seventh grader, Gianna Zales has a bit of a problem with organization and due dates. With her cross-country running, she's totally focused; with her homework, she's pretty much a procrastonator. Not so her best friend Zig. He not only begins long-term assignments immediately and concludes them brilliantly, he also prods, reminds and coaches Gianna Z.
Gee's world is changing in big and small ways. She learns that her place at the sectional cross country meet is not a lock due to her poor grades in science. She hasn't even begun her leaf project and the due date is looming. She discovers that resident mean girl, Bianca, is set to be the alternate should Gee be ineligible to compete. Bianca, who runs like a model and wears the shortest running shorts and barely there tee shirts that say, "It's not how you play the game; it's how you look when you play the game."
Her best friendship with Zig is changing as well. She notices awkward moments between them and daydreams about kissing him. Her father is lovable and involved, but Gee would prefer not to arrive at school in a hearse bearing a sign saying "Zales Funeral Home." Nonna, Gee's maternal grandmother lives with the family and has begun doing odd things like leaving her false teeth in the refrigerator and wandering off.
This is a sweet story of family and friendship featuring a likeable, energetic main character, who manages to be both realistic and funny instead of quirky or precocious. Secondary characters, especially Zig and Nonna are wonderfully drawn and Gee's relationship with them both is warm and comfortable. Both Nonna and Zig accept Gee unconditionally. I love how the author wove the poetry of Robert Frost and qualities of a variety of trees into the narrative.
Especially touching, in a book filled with touching "little moments," was a scene where Gee and Nonna are about to attend the viewing of her classmate, Ruby's grandmother. Gee admits to Nonna that she doesn't know what to say to comfort Ruby over her loss. Nonna reassures Gee and tells her to just be there for her friend, but Gee observes Nonna closely as Nonna interacts with Ruby's mother and uses Nonna as a role model when she comforts Ruby.
Look for The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z at your local independent booksellers in September.