Standing for Socks by Elissa Brent Weissman, 220 pp, RL 4
Standing for Socks, the debut novel from Elissa Brent Weissman employs one of my favorite plot devices in adult literature, children's literature and even movies, namely, how one, seemingly miniscule, unconscious act can shape and change a person's life forever. In Standing for Socks, fifth grader Fara Ross unwittingly wears one white and one dark grey sock to school and starts a kid-sized revolution.
Fara, the only child of socially and environmentally conscious parents, shares their views and is an active supporter of these causes at school. She has a close-knit, comfortable relationship with her best friends, Jody, the budding journalist, and Phillip, artistic but clumsy. She is a good student who is looking forward to going to middle school and maybe even winning the Harvey Award for Outstanding Student at the end of the year assembly. Everything seems perfect - except for one or two seemingly small things. Fara's unintentional sock mix-up garners the attention of kids and teachers alike, all of whom like the message she seems to be sending, namely, this is a free country with freedom of expression and socks don't have to match! All except one, and that one, Melodee Simon, makes it her mission to step back into the spotlight that she (and her mother) thinks is her right. When Fara decides to campaign for sixth grade president, her sock popularity seems like the perfect launching pad to promote her school and earth friendly ideas, even though she finds she is growing tired of the responsibility she feels to keep up her statement on individuality.
Elissa Brent Weissman has taken an innovative plot twist (socks) and given us a familiar setting in which it unravels. Fara and Jody, the two main characters, feel like real people - girls my daughter or I even might have gone to school with. The closeness and the hurt that the two experience over the course of the story also ring true. At first, I was surprised when Jody stopped speaking to Fara, but then I remembered back to the slights and oversights that I experienced as a child and how I felt and did the same thing. While the characters of Melodee and her mother are necessarily a bit larger than life to add to the tension and suspense in the plot, Weissman limits their page time. And, really, while Melodee and her mother may be sterotypes, these kind of girls and mothers do exist. Count yourself lucky if you have not run into them (yet.) While the stories of Fara, Jody and Melodee make for a great plot and a realistic and satisfying resolution (and some very funny sock jokes and plays on words), my favorite part of the story involved secondary characters, kids from other schools that Fara, Jody and Phillip befriend. Vickie, Caroline and Zoë, as well as few others, are part of an interesting plot development that dove tails wonderfully with the main plot in the final chapters of the book.
On one last note, I have to say that I think "Fara" is the perfect name for the main character of Standing for Socks. It is a unique and individual name, like Weissman's main character, and out of the ordinary. And, most of all, for me anyway, the name doesn't bring to mind one set visual. In this way, all girl readers can imagine themselves as the main character of this wonderful book and maybe Fara will give them the sense of self needed to make a statement, even a small one that starts with socks. As an aside, when I first began reading Standing for Socks I thought, "Really? Just wearing two different socks can draw this much attention, make such a statement?" It seemed like I might need a willing suspension of disbelief, then I remembered something that happened a few years back at the bookstore where I work when we sold socks. Non-book items have slowly been taking up more and more shelf space at the chain bookstore where I work for years now, much to my chagrin, and, for some reason, we got in a shipment of socks from the little miss matched company. For about $8.00 you can buy 3 socks, all different, but with similar color schemes and patterns. They didn't sell so well and, when the price was marked down, several of my co-workers, myself included, snapped them up. A few weeks later I was shocked to find that all of my co-workers bought 2 sets of socks so that they would have matching pairs instead of mixing them up as they were intended to be worn (and how I wear them...) Wearing mismatched socks (that did, in their own way match) seemed like no big deal to me, but, after asking my co-workers why they weren't mixing it up, I learned that they just couldn't bring themselves to wear two mismatched socks.
Elissa Brent Weissman has a second, fabulous book, The Trouble with Mark Hopper that takes another great twist (two very different boys share the same name) and creates an entertaining, emotionally rich story for young readers. Readers of this book will enjoy the school stories of the master of the genre, Andrew Clements, as well as Grace Lin's books about the budding artist and author, Pacy and Julie Bowe's My Last Best Friend and the sequel, My Next Best Friend.