Thursday, April 26, 2012

Middle Grade Fiction: 11 Birthdays (Wendy Mass)

Summary of 11 Birthdays (by Wendy Mass):
Ever think about what it would be like to relive your birthday, every day?  Experience what it might be like with 11 Birthdays.  

Amanda and Leo are born on the same day in the same hospital.  With a little help from “fate,” their parents meet in the hospital and again on their first birthday, leading to a close connection between the two families.   Each year, Amanda and Leo grow in their friendship and look forward to celebrating their birthday together.    Everything changes when Amanda overhears Leo saying unkind things about her to a group of boys at their 10th birthday party.  So begins an “infamous” silent wall between them...until their 11th birthday.  Amanda celebrates it without Leo.  When she goes to sleep that night, she is relieved it is all over.  Unfortunately, when she wakes up, her day begins EXACTLY like the day before.  At first, she thinks it is some kinds of joke, but when the bus arrives, she knows it isn’t.  Each morning after, she wakes up to find that it is still her 11th birthday!  Sound fun?  It isn’t.   Her  11th birthday is a disaster!  She has a miserable party without Leo, her mom gets fired, her dad is sick, she embarrasses herself at try outs, and her sister has her heart broken by a boy she likes.  After a few days, Leo reaches out to her.  He is stuck in this birthday rewind too!   The duo work together each day trying to figure out what to do to fix what went wrong the first day and to mend their friendship in the process.   They learn that the origin of the “curse” goes back to their great-great grandparents.  They must solve the mystery of that famous feud and put things right in their own lives before they can finally move forward.   

Both Amanda and Leo are likable and relatable characters.  Each has fears and insecurities to overcome.  They grow in their relationship with each other and those around them.  Despite having the same day repeated, the children problem solve by using their previous experiences to change things—in most cases to make circumstances better, not only for themselves but others.   One day they skip school to live out an ideal type birthday since there are no real consequences.  While the day is mostly harmless fun, they do lie and sneak around. Another day is devoted to helping others they encounter.  Many of them are spent working to piece together what happened to their ancestors many, many years earlier in order to learn how to break the curse.  In the end, Amanda and Leo are close friends again, but they are unable to “fix” everything.  For instance, Amanda’s mother still loses her job and Kylie (Amanda’s sister) does not get the boy she seeks.  Nevertheless, the story ends with hope and optimism. 

I know there is no “perfect” book.  Kids have to do something “wrong” to have plot.  As a parent, I have a concern though.  Leo and Amanda lie…A LOT.  You may be able to argue that in some circumstances they have to.  If they tell the adults what is happening, no one will believe them.  (Amanda does try once to tell her dad with no success.)  There were other times though that they really did not have to lie for that reason.  Though Amanda expresses some guilt over lying, it does not stop them.  I do not believe the lying issue is a reason to prevent a child from reading it.  Instead, I bring it up as an opportunity for parents/teachers to discuss the issue with their children using questions like:
  • Is it ever okay to lie?  If so, when?
  • What are our family/school/class values on the subject of lying?
  • What are possible outcomes of lying?
  • Does this book illustrate “real” consequences for lying?
  • Who are some other people, real or fictional, who lied? What was their outcome?
Overall, 11 Birthdays is an entertaining read for ages 8-12.  The characters and plot will definitely engage young readers.  It also offers a perfect opportunity to discuss a significant moral issue.


  1. This sounds like a good story to share with my ten year old son. I like the premise.

  2. Sounds like a fun book to read together with the benefit of character training.

  3. Wendy Mass has a special way of writing -- brings you right into the characters minds and their situation. I haven't read this particular book of her, however (and doesn't it continue with 12 and 13??)

    And great questions about the lying aspect. As a parent, I feel books bring up such great discussion topics with my kids.

  4. @ Barbara I don't know if it continues. Are you referring to different books or within the book? This is the first book I have read by Wendy Mass, but I would definitely read her other work.

  5. I do believe this is my favorite of all her novels. A note on the other Willow Falls books: Finally (sometimes called 12 Finally, although that's not the title if you look at the spine!) is about a different character in the same town. So is 13 Gifts. I love it when an author creates a world and then focuses on different characters in each book.

  6. @Joanne I believe I understand now what Barbara is referring to. Based on your last comment, you would probably like Sharon Creech's novels. Several of them are linked to one town and the main characters are linked in some way to each other. Walk Two Moons is the best of these novels.

  7. Thanks! I've read quite a few of Sharon Creech's books. Agree that Walk Two Moons is her best.


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