Maggie Mayfield (11) is an intellectual young lady with big aspirations. She dreams of becoming President of the United States of America. Unlike her sisters, who are obsessed with physical appearance and boys, Maggie proudly walks around with titles such as “Student of the Month” and “5th Grade Science Fair Champion.” As different as they may be, however, the sisters have one thing that brings them together: a genuine desire to help their cool, Neil Young-loving father who has Multiple Sclerosis. In the Mayfield house, there is one motto that is followed above all others: pull your bootstraps up.
As a 6th grader at her new school, Maggie is determined to have perfect attendance. To her surprise, she has a crush on Clyde, and that's a distraction she didn't expect. But most of the weight on her shoulders is her dad. Because of his worsening condition, Maggie’s father is forced to quit his job. Her mom takes a job working at a hotel, leaving her father with the girls a majority of the time. As she goes through many trials, Maggie must remember to pull up her bootstraps, and show her bravery and courage during difficult times. Presidents write memoirs documenting their life, and this is hers.
BTSYA / Teen Reader (14):
Maggie is very smart and ambitious. She’s the kind of girl who asks for Coca-Cola stock for her birthday and is convinced she's going to be the president someday. But she also seems a bit oblivious to what's happening around her (i.e., her father's Multiple Schlerosis getting worse).
Maggie's family is engaging and believable. Her two older sisters are stereotypically annoying high schoolers who make fun of Maggie. Her parents are aging hippies struggling with their new reversed roles. Overall, this was a funny family story about how circumstances and roles change in the family and how everyone adapted to it.
BTSYA / Teen Reader (17):
One of the most unique aspects of The Meaning of Maggie is how the cultural context is incorporated into the story. Maggie’s parents were hippies in their younger years, and they still are at heart. They love telling stories from their youth and listening to rock n’ roll music. They tell Maggie that when she grows up, they'll share other stories, because she is too young to hear them. Although not all kids will realize this ode to history, it adds a special touch to the novel. The story itself, is likely set in the 1980s based on the clues in the text.
It is brilliant that the story takes the form of Maggie's memoir. The prologue wonderfully sets readers up for the events that are discussed. Unlike some novels, the prologue is revisited near the end, bringing the plot full circle. Maggie's footnotes add both a comical and personal touch, too.
For some novels, readers are upset about an unresolved story, but the cliffhanger is just right in this book. Mr. Mayfield's fate is never determined. He wakes up from the seizure, but we never actually see him leave the hospital. The fact that readers don’t truly know what happens to Maggie’s father makes the story more realistic because, the truth is, many people don’t get that happily ever after when dealing with a disease. It is a painful, tough journey that requires a tug on the bootstraps for the readers, too.
This is a highly enjoyable novel, but there are a few shortcomings. To me, Maggie is overly naive at times. By 6th grade, there is a certain maturity a child should have. Maggie seems to lack the ability to see the bigger picture and understand others at times. She thinks she is very mature, but she often acts the opposite. Yes, the quirky protagonist cliche can be a nice way to go, but not to the point where the character is too much of an outsider. For instance, simply giving Maggie a best friend would have made her character so much more relatable as opposed to crafting her as this school-obsessed lone wolf. Although a very relatable novel for those who have cared for relatives battling disease, I could definitely see those who have not gone through this having difficulty relating to this piece.
I recommend readers of 10-13 years of age borrow this book from the library.
An enjoyable read. Maggie is a lovable character whose personality permeates every word you read. Maggie's asides (written as footnotes) are quirky and funny, adding to the depth of your relationship with her. Her dad's multiple sclerosis is a critical part of the plot, and it is presented honestly, with grace, realism, and humor. Her parents outlook over the situation shouldn't be diminished when you're talking about this book.
Maggie's voice and the authenticity of her feelings are the heart of this story. A great read-aloud choice.
The story ends hopefully; readers who want everything tied up neatly in a book won't get that here. There are a few loose ends. References to sex and scenes describing alcohol may not be appropriate for some audiences. Maggie makes it clear there is no Santa Claus or Easter bunny. That may offend some readers.
Maggie's story starts in the now and then takes us back one year. It is a journal style of writing.
Family dynamics are a key part of the story, and you can draw on various scenes to talk about them: stay-at-home dad and his impact on daily life; mom works as a maid; sister relationships, etc. Maggie herself is dealing with a lot, and her revelations can also start conversations: middle school life, change, (potential) loss of parent. With so much to talk about, The Meaning of Maggie is a great choice for a parent-child book club.
10 and Up
12 and Up
Teen STAR Review Team, Be the Star You Are!™ . Reviewer ages: 14, 17
Borrow, at least. For teens dealing with lots of change in their life, Maggie can be a good friend.