Fifty years ago, Tess’s grandmother became the last winner of the Miss Land of the Free pageant. Today, Grandma’s health is declining due to Alzheimer’s. Deciding to make the most of her remaining years of cognizance, Grandma decides to give her diamond tiara—the one she was crowned with—to her granddaughter. The problem is, she has two: Tess, 13, and Brianna, 16. In order to make the decision fair, she and Grandpa invite the sisters to participate in a contest during their summer visit. Whoever earns enough “Helpful Points” before school starts will win the tiara.
Poor Tess thinks her chances of winning are dismal. Her pretty older sister is smart and competent, while Tess, on the other hand, has been described by friends and family as sweet but scatter-brained, constantly distracted by an over-active imagination. Here is where the story incorporates not only “Tess” and the “Tiara,” but “Terrorists” as well. After reading an article in National Geographic about the frightening, misogynist nature of Muslim extremists, Tess notices one of the neighbors clad head-to-toe in a dark cloak, and recognizes it from the article as a burka. Putting two and two together, Tess fears that the neighbors are terrorists who are targeting her grandmother—Miss Land of the Free herself!
Baldwin’s short novel isn’t not so much about a girl encountering a different culture or religion as it is a cautionary tale about judging people at face value. It’s certainly a nice message to teach children. However, I feel that the story would have been better served if it had shown Tess exploring another culture’s traditions and values than simply act as an exercise in tolerance. Recommended for Ages 9-13.
This review can also be found on my Children's Review Site here.