Bean is just starting 3rd grade, but she gets off on the wrong foot when she finds out that her best friend, Carla, is now best friends with Sam. Then, she can't find her seat and ends up sitting next to Stinky Stan and trying her best to avoid Terrible Tanisha. While Bean tries to navigate her way through 3rd grade best friend-less, she tries befriending Goody-Two-Shoes Gabrielle, who is too prim and proper, Stan, who is still too smelly and Tanisha, who gets Bean in a lot of trouble. After a difficult couple months, Bean starts to learn who she really is, and is able to pull it together and make some great friends.
There are some real positives with this book. First of all, Bean is an African American girl in a book that isn't race driven. This book is not about race, rather it's primarily a book about a girl learning what it means to be a friend. Take away the cover, and you'd never know what the character looks like.
Also, Bean learns a real lesson with Tanisha. Bean starts hanging out with Tanisha so she stops being bullied, but then Bean ends up being a bully herself. She also learns that life is pretty hard for Tanisha, so maybe she needs a real friend to help her. But the scenes where Bean is being so mean and hurtful will be hard for readers to understand. I didn't really feel that Bean's only option was Tanisha, but it did provide a good lesson, although maybe too forcefully.
Bean's family is wonderful. Her two older sisters are a pain, but there are moments of genuine love, which is true of any siblings. Her dad is supportive and caring, and very encouraging in her violin studies. Also, her mom is a nurse that has to work late, which becomes an issue toward the end of the book. That is a reality for so many children though, having a good parent that sometimes can not be there due to work. The fight at the end between Bean and her mother was again a little too forced, but made for a nice talking point.
What I really think is missing from this book that would take it from average to great is humor. Bean is likeable and silly, but there just are not enough laugh out loud moments. This book is a little too message driven and not humorous enough, especially when you consider other books in the age group. If Bean wants to compete with Judy Moody, Clementine, and Ivy + Bean, she's going to need to work on her comedy routine.
That said, I would still recommend this book for a reader looking for a fun, realistic fiction book. I would also give this to Junie B. addicts, since some of Bean's speech, grammatically correct, is still fun and sassy. I'm not sure if this will become a series, but if there's more humor in other entries, this could become a hit.