Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review - Mackenzie Blue: Friends Forever?

Author: Tina Wells
Publisher: HarperCollins (June 22, 2010)
Age Level: Grades 4 to 8
Source: Publicist for Review

Description from GoodReads:

Mackenzie Blue is hitting the trails!

It's time for Brookdale Academy's camping field trip, but Zee has much more to deal with than a lesson about nature. . . .

1. My BFF, Ally, is visiting all the way from Paris! Ooh la la!
2. My friends and I are so going to win the environmental scavenger hunt!

1. We have to stay in teeny-tiny log cabins. How will we all fit?
2. The legendary (and terrifying) Mountain Man . . .

The Mackenzie Blue series is by Tina Wells.  When I was approached by by Buzz Marketing to review the books, I was excited to read a new middle grade series that I might be able to share with my students.  When the books arrived, I realized by looking at the covers and format that there would likely be a formulaic feel to each book. This didn’t bother me.   As a 9 year old, I read every Nancy Drew Book, Hardy Boys, etc.  Each one was really the same with just a different antagonist and different location.  Many children love books in series formats.  With a series, they get to spend time with favorite characters, and there is always the understanding that each one will turn out just fine for the main character and his/her pals. Maybe the best comparison for childrens book series, such as Mackenzie Blue, would be the weekly sitcom or drama. Each week, the main character faces a new challenge, learns a lesson, and everything is wrapped up neatly in 30 to 60 minutes.  Or in case of the book, the dilemma is wrapped up in 200 pages.

In these books, Mackenzie “Zee” Blue is a 7th grader at Brookdale Academy. Her BFF, Ally, has moved to France and she has several other friends including a close male friend named Jasper.  Each book focuses on a dilemma that Zee must learn from.  In the third, and most recently published book, Friends Forever?, Zee is attending science camp with all her the other seventh graders.  In addition to the common issues of being away from home, dealing with outdoor bathrooms, and camp chores, Zee is trying to figure out how to maintain her friendship with Ally (who is visiting from France) and her current friends.  As if friendship troubles wasn't enough, there seems to be something up between Landon (Zee has a crush on him) and Jasper (her male BFF) - could Landon be jealous?  During all this, Zee must also cope with getting her first period.  

When I first started reading the Mackenzie Blue series, there were several things that struck me.  A friend of mine said “You are looking at it with your educator’s eyes”.  Maybe I was – maybe I always do.   However, I was torn.  I realized that there are many tween girls who would likely want to read these books and would enjoy them and even those that we would identify as reluctant or hesitant readers might like them. The books have illustrations dispersed through the pages and at times you see snippets of Zee’s diary or text messages. Zee is a fun main character that girls would like to know.  She worries about her friends, tries to do the right thing, and faces issues that every 12 year old girl is struggling with. These are all positive elements that tween girls love.

So what was my issue? First, I cringe every time an author throws in name brands and certain things that in my mind aren’t necessary and date the book. For example, “She pulled her iPhone out of her pocket. It had a bright blue skin with a big pink Z.” (p. 28 MB #3) Do I really need to know who has an iPhone (or a Sidekick in the first book) or that one of the girls in the cabin has a Louis Vuitton bag? I can honestly answer “no”.  Isn't this the concern with children watching television is that they are overly exposed to products being directly marketed to them? Not only during the commercials, but also in the product placements within the show.  As I read through the books, I almost imagined that I was flipping through a tween version of Vogue magazine.  I found that it often distracted from the story and placed more focus on products than on the wonderful qualities that were hidden within the pages of the book.

My second concern was the Instant Messaging (“IM”) name of “E-zee”.  I am puzzled by the selection of this nickname for a 12 year old girl.  I am especially surprised that Wells, a marketing expert, would not have thought about the connotations of that name.

Finally, and I know that authors often have little control over the covers of their books or the illustrations, but, often I felt that the drawing of the characters made them appear to be in late high school rather than in seventh grade.

I agonized over writing this review and I have probably spent more hours writing and re-writing this because I recognize that I am likely in the minority regarding my opinion of the books.  Ms. Wells has worked hard to write books for girls.  I recognize this fact.  Over the course of the three books, I have also seen growth in her as a writer and I would say in all sincerity that Mackenzie Blue: Friends Forever? #3 is the most developed  of her three books.  However, if I can offer any input to Wells, it would be to focus more on her wonderful characters and spot on issues facing tween girls, then creating a book version of a tween television sitcom.


  1. Great review, Aly. I love that you were able to explain why you had issues with the books. I'm sure younger girls wouldn't have those issues, but parents might, and it's always good to know what an adult thinks. :)

  2. Aly, great review. I love how you gave such a balanced review. It's great to hear your viewpoint as someone who works with hundreds of kids each day.

  3. A really well thought out review that expressed concerns that I too would have. Especially the IM moniker, yikes.