While Bill Murray may have been the star in the hit film Groundhog’s Day, it is Amanda Ellerby and Leo Fitzpatrick who play the lead role in Wendy Mass’s 11 Birthdays, which follows the two as they replay their 11th birthday over and over.
Amanda and Leo were born on the same day, just hours apart in a hospital in Willow Falls. Angelina D’Angelo, a woman who had lived in Willows Falls since the beginning of time, admired the two lovely babies as their parents first saw them in the infant room at the hospital. Angelina commented that she hoped those two would forever celebrate their birthdays together. And through a mix-up at a party location on year later, the tradition of Amanda and Leo celebrating their birthdays together began.
This happened regularly until their 10th birthday, when Leo made a comment that caused Amanda great anger. For a year, the two did not speak to one another. However, as their 11th birthdays begin, it will be a day that they relive over and over again — and it is only the two of them who realize this is happening.
11 Birthdays is a story that is tied deeply in family history and local history. Although the story sounds fairly simple, there are great layers buried within the events. Each of the small pieces of the first instance of Amanda and Leo’s birthdays ties in somehow to how they solve their mutual problems and come to each celebrate one of the best birthdays of their lives. It was enjoyable to see how each of them figured out what was going on when they kept waking up on their birthday, even after having celebrated it the day before; more enjoyable was the fact no one else around them seemed to have a clue what was going on.
11 Birthdays was much different than I initially expected, and it was much better than I anticipated. This is the second book by Wendy Mass I’ve read (the first being A Mango Shaped Space) and I found both of her books to be the same way — the jacket description and initial impressions were far surpassed when the story concluded. In fact, when I began this book, I was frustrated with how unlike an 11-year-old Amanda felt, but as the story progressed, I couldn’t help but think about how very much like an 11-year-old she really was. I thought the story as a whole was well-paced and did not kill the concept as it repeated itself. Each instance of reliving the day was unique and fresh, and I thought that the descriptions and scenarios were cute and silly enough without being over the top.
Without hesitation, I would give this book to girls 9-13 or so. It’s a definite tween title, and I think that it will appeal to those who enjoy Mass’s style. While reading it, I couldn’t help but think that Amanda and this story reminded me of Lina from Diana Lopez’s Confetti Girl — another title that definitely falls into this realm of squeaky clean, humorous, but touching titles that meld realistic fiction with an element of imaginary play.