A review by mrskatiefitz
One Tough Chick, by Leslie Margolis


The Annabelle Unleashed series by Leslie Margolis began in 2008 with Boys are Dogs. Annabelle, a seventh grader, who has previously attended an all-girls school finds herself in a new co-ed school, surrounded by obnoxious boys. As she trains her dog, she realizes that the same behavior modification techniques also work on the boys at her school, and she uses this fact to help her and her new female friends get used to middle school. Girls Acting Catty (2009) and Everybody Bugs Out (2011) continue Annabelle’s wholesome adventures navigating the halls of her middle school. By the time One Tough Chick begins, she has established a core group of friends, acquired a new stepdad and stepbrother, and started dating a cute boy named Oliver. The plot of this fourth book continues with many of the threads established by the previous titles, but it focuses chiefly on Annabelle’s role as a judge in the talent show and the dilemmas she faces when people assume she will vote based on her relationships with the performers, rather than from an objective point of view.

What is so nice about this series is that Annabelle is a true role model. In each book, she shows girls that it is possible to make it through the various challenges of middle school without compromising on what matters to them. There is bullying and teasing in these books, but time and again, Annabelle rises above it and helps her friends to do the same It’s not that Annabelle is perfect - she has her flaws - but that she doesn’t apologize for being herself and doesn’t bury her head in the sand and avoid intimidating situations.

This particular book is not the strongest of the series, but it takes on a very important topic for girls in their early teens - first boyfriends. The story provides a very sweet and realistic road map for that first dating relationship. Both Annabelle and Oliver are shy and awkward, but also kind and respectful to each other. Girls who follow Annabelle’s example will be in good shape when they start dating! It’s also nice that girls can grow up with Annabelle, the way they do with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice or with Lauren Myracle’s Winnie. Annabelle’s stories are somewhat tamer than Naylor’s, Myracle’s, or Judy Blume’s, but because of that they are probably more likely to reflect real life for many readers of the series. Annabelle’s positive attitude and the comforting atmosphere of each book might also appeal to girls who are hooked on the American Girl books, especially the contemporary stories about the Girls of the Year.