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Barn Boot Blues high on cute, low on hysterics

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Your flip-flops are all packed away.

You loved them so much. Wearing them felt like going barefoot, so they were the first shoes you grabbed whenever you went anywhere. They were your favorite color and they were worn in just the right spots. Putting them on was like donning a favorite old sweater. Oh, how you loved that slap-slap-slap.

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And now your flip-flops are packed away and you're wearing shoes that are warmer and more school-approved -- or maybe, like Taylor McNamara, you've got boots.

But in the new book "Barn Boot Blues" by Catherine Friend, Taylor's troubles kicked off with an ugly pair of footwear...

"Discombobulated" is a good word, unless it has to do with yourself.

That's what Taylor McNamara decided, because that's what she was: discombobulated. Off-balance. Weird. Not quite right.

It started when her parents packed up all their stuff and moved from Minneapolis (population 400,000) to Melberg (population 7,380) and a farm (population 77, including three humans) -- a farm that was not exactly where 12-year-old Taylor wished to be.

But, determined to make the best of things, she was eager to start school -- that is, until the first day. That was when she forgot that she had on her ugly old barn boots and the bus came early. Wearing brown rubber boots all day is hot, but not the kind of hot you want to be when you're in middle school.

Still, Taylor managed to make friends, and most of them totally understood why she missed Minneapolis. There was no cable TV on the farm. The goats were smelly, the chickens pooped everywhere, and animals die on the farm.

Taylor was homesick, quick, so her friends devised a plan to help her get back to the city.

If Taylor, who was once a good student, could learn to misbehave, maybe her parents would re-think that stupid farm business. If she could somehow prove that this move was not a good thing, then maybe they'd go back to the city.

Operation TEFF (Taylor Escapes From Farm) began, and Taylor became a teacher's worst nightmare.

And then something horrible happened, followed by something wonderfully magical. Was being booted off the farm really what she wanted?

Looking for something that's lacking in teenage angst? Then here's the book you want: high on cute, low on hysterics, and featuring zero profanity, "Barn Boot Blues" is perfect for the middle-schooler who believes theatrics are best left for the stage.

With barely a hint of drama, in fact, author Catherine Friend's main character, Taylor, tells her own story of change, and the nice surprises you get when you relax and embrace it. Readers will enjoy the supporting cast in this book (even the nasty ones, I think), and parents will appreciate that Friend gives Taylor enough maturity to inspire but enough kid-ness to maintain believability.

While this book can undoubtedly be enjoyed by tween-age boys, I think 10-to-13-year-old girls will better appreciate it (and so will their parents). For them, "Barn Boot Blues" is a real kick.

***

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." Schlichenmeyer has been read-ing since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.

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