This graphic novel is a celebration of diversity - both ethnically and academically - something I continue to look for as I search for books that either serve as mirrors in which the kids in my classroom see themselves, or as windows through which they can learn about and empathize with people who are different from them.
The story centers around protagonist Penelope (Peppi), whose problem - her impulsive choice of pushing a quiet kid named Jaime during a chaotic first day - drives the main part of the plot. Additionally, several subplots (art club vs. science club, friend Maribella's family tension, and the underlying how-to-stop-bullies problem) add dimension to the overall narrative.
The author's development of the characters was really well done. Penelope is a self-aware problem solver who strives to do the right thing. She knows when she's screwed up, feels guilty, and works hard to try and make it better, even if she's unsure how to go about it. Jaime is so sweet: a science lover who hates competition and wants everyone to get along. Peppi's art club friend Maribella is perhaps the most surprising character: a confident go-getter and seeming leader, a dysfunctional dynamic at home reveals why she is so driven.
I enjoyed this book very much. The panels were beautifully drawn, with the background action pale in contrast to the more boldly-colored up front action. I liked the ending very much, even though it was a little predictable. The many messages the author revealed through the drawings and the characters actions were ones that my students will totally relate to. I'm sure this book will help kids see themselves in the rich array of characters and help them work through their real-life struggles.