The novel follows Gertie, who goes on a mission to become the best fifth grader ever in order to prove to her estranged mother that she doesn't her one bit. Gertie's methods are anything but conventional, and it doesn't help that she's thwarted at every turn by a real life Mary Sue. Everyone thinks Mary Sue is great, even Gertie's best friends. In order to be the best, Gertie is going to have to take drastic measures.
Everything about this story is charming--the Alabama setting, Gertie's worldview, her friends (and enemies), and her funny (and sometimes heartbreaking) methods to demonstrate her greatness. The kids act convincingly, the adults are just clueless enough about the characters' interior lives and politics, but also pretty astute, too. Under hijinks and laughs, Gertie is a character who's been hurt, but she's got a great support system and people who love her, showing readers that unfair things happen even to the greatest kids, but love and acceptance can come from unlikely places.
I love Gertie because she's bold, and she's not afraid to defend herself (or the ones she loves), even when she knows that she might be ostracized for it. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book is when Mary Sue's mom makes an impassioned speech against oil rigs to Gertie's class, and Gertie marches up to the front and defends the rigs because it's where her father works. It creates some great tension that punctuates the rest of the book, and offers young readers a really great opportunity to grapple with big issues in an age-appropriate manner.
(Oh, and did I mention that the book is illustrated by Jillian Tamaki!? Because it is, and she does a brilliant job.)
I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself and a kid you know and love, because Gertie will not fail to delight! And if I can't convince you, then perhaps this photo of Kate and her sister Cassie (author of Circus Mirandus!) leaping for Gertie will!
How can you not go out and buy the book now? I mean, really.