June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

By Sarah Grace McCandless

Welcome to Grosse Pointe, Mich., where well-groomed families are steeped in American Beauty dysfunction and Mean Girls culture. Sixth grader Emma Harris is the new kid in this tony Detroit suburb. Emma’s auto-exec dad has bought a house next to the wealthy Krauses, whose daughter becomes Emma’s cool pal. But when the school hunk asks, “Will you go with me?” and Emma replies “Where?”, her journey into the cringe-worthy years of adolescence begins.

This is the ’80s–Emma longs to slow-dance to Prince’s “Purple Rain”–but the humiliations and pretensions are timeless. In vignettes accompanied by Christine Norrie illustrations, McCandless, a Grosse Pointe-bred former comics exec, hilariously captures teen politics (“Laugh at his jokes, but act like you can’t stand him,” the school’s Queen Bees tell Emma). But there’s compassion beneath the dead-on details, and Emma’s self-awareness sets her apart in a place where girls grow up to become “supermodel pregnant…no bloated ankles,” and “nothing ever changes.”

NOVEL

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