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Because I have already reviewed the first book, Samantha Sanderson at the Movies, at length, you may want to read that review first.
- Title: Samantha Sanderson on the Scene
- Author: Robin Caroll
- Print length: 244 pages
- Publisher: Zonderkidz
- Publication date: May 6, 2014
- Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
- 2 gingersnaps (out of 5 gingersnaps) for content(1)
- 3 gingersnaps for craft(2)
- 3 gingersnaps for its handling of Christian themes(3)
- Comprehensive score: 2.5 gingersnaps (below average)
Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Christian Publishing
The periphery details:
Same as the first book.
Sam Sanderson returns, this time in a bullying case. A girl at school receives notes calling her fat, and Sam gets help from her best friend Makayla to figure out who’s responsible.
Finding quality Christian fiction for children is always a challenge, particularly fiction that doesn’t package a sermon in a flimsy disguise for a story. I appreciate the light hand Caroll takes in regards to Christianity, even if it gets lost underneath the heavy-handed “After-School Special” approach to bullying.
Without giving spoilers, I will say that the choice of “bad guy” was handled appropriately. There are no true villains in this story, which is a good message and good writing.
I also appreciate seeing fiction about Christian girls with positive role models and supportive parents.
This book’s mystery, the bullying of a schoolmate, is more plausible (than the first book in which Sam investigates a bombing) for a middle-school girl heroine.
This book had the same issues as the first in regard to pacing. In fact, the book used exactly the same formula: opening mystery, multiple dead-end red herring trails, an abrupt resolution a few pages from the end of the book, and no consequences for any of Sam’s inappropriate behavior.
However, this book magnifies the flaw of the first one and adds another one. It’s an odd mixture of preaching about bullying and allowing its main character to flout ethics without consequences.
I was disturbed by Sam’s slap on the wrist followed by praise for confessing that she broke into an administrator’s computer. In the first book, Sam used her school newspaper blog to launch wild accusations at innocent adults without any consequences. In this book, Sam does confess and receive a token punishment (clean-up duty), but she receives many pats on the back for owning up to her mistake. I agree that fiction should depict real people, rather than a morality lesson, but Caroll takes such pains to reinforce the lesson (BULLYING IS BAD) that the contrast is unsettling.
What was worse, however, was Makayla’s gossip about students’ counseling files. Again, as in book one, Sam breaks rules in order to get information for her sleuthing. In the first book, Sam regularly eavesdropped and ended up getting her dad in trouble at work. In this book, she pressures a friend to break ethical rules about confidentiality. As an aside, why would a school allow a student to see confidential files, anyway? I would be very upset, as a student or a parent, if private details were shared without my permission.
What I found most disappointing about this book was its issues with superficial attempts to include diversity. Unlike the first book, that only mentioned “mocha” skin in passing and therefore rated only a small mark-down, this book tried to address race and failed. I beg of any author:
Write diversity well, or skip it entirely.
One of the worst lines of dialogue in the entire book is when Tam, an Asian character, says that she was bullied “about my Asian heritage.” Few adults of color would say that, let alone children. Honestly. What middle school student would talk this way, particularly an American child who is half Chinese? The line rings tone-deaf to the actual racism and bullying faced by children of color every day.
Makayla, who is this time identified as “African American” (but still portrayed as white on the book, this time with even lighter skin), is surprised when Sam informs her that bullying can take racial forms. I guarantee that if Makayla were an actual living middle school student, she would be the one teaching white Sam about racial bullying. I have never met a person of color who could not instantly come up with several instances of racially inappropriate behavior. Are they willing to share it with a white author gathering source material for her book? Most likely not.
I beg authors to either write racial diversity the real way or omit it. This kind of ethnocentrism is a poor message in applying Christianity to our day-to-day lives. Nearly thirty years ago, The Baby-Sitters Club mentioned its one member of color in passing as a token nod to diversity. Surely, in 2014, we have moved past this kind of superficial representation?
Lest this review come across as harsh, let me point out that I am critiquing this representation within its own context. I would not apply the same criteria to a book that never mentioned skin color of its characters, or a book that used some self-awareness about its superficiality regarding race.
(Bonus reading: “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” from the New York Times and “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”, also from the New York Times)
Children of color are Christians, too. They deserve stories for and about them, not to be relegated as a white-washed sidekick who must be taught about racial bullying by the white protagonist.
Conclusion: Samantha Sanderson on the Scene offers a Christian-based story for white readers. Not recommended for children of color.
- Content refers to the themes and structure of the book. For fiction, this includes macro elements such as the book’s premise, character arcs, and how well the conflict and resolution fulfill the promise of the book. For non-fiction, this refers to the information that is conveyed.
- Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
- Christian themes refers to the application of Biblical principles as well as the understanding and application of Christian theology.
Additional note: The combined score generally is a mathematical average of the three ratings, unless an individual rating is especially low or high.