Literature / Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade

Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade, a novel by Barthe Declements, won several awards for being the most popular children's book in thirteen states.

It's a story set in an elementary school, involving a student, Jenny, who is initially repulsed by a new transfer: morbidly obese classmate Elsie Edwards. At first, Jenny can't stand Elsie any more than the other kids, especially after Elsie is caught stealing her classmates' lunch money from their desks so she can buy food. However, one day, she runs into Elsie crying in the girl's bathroom. Inconsolable, Elsie spills out her life story to Jenny, along with the details on her cold, unloving mother. Jenny, beginning to see her as human for the first time, vows to stick up for her— which she does. Despite resistance from other kids, she eventually brings over one— and then two— of her friends to her side.

Over time, Jenny tries to deal with her own personal problems (having a hard time with math, her parents' occasional arguments), as well as help Elsie with her own. Unfortunately, Jenny's attempts to right things sometimes cause more trouble— or trouble just arises through other means— but things gradually get better over time.

Near the end, when Elsie has been doing well, one of Jenny's friends thumbs a ride and hitchhikes, and Jenny and the rest (including Elsie and Elsie's little sister) go along for the ride out of fear of leaving their friend behind. The man drives far away from the kids' intended destination, and they eventually end up having to escape the man's truck. When they do, Elsie's little sister stupidly goes back in the truck to retrieve her purse, and it drives off with her in it. The kids, horrified, walk to the nearest building, a tavern, and call the police. Yet another strike against Elsie, just when her mom was starting to (maybe) warm up to her. Or at least not be a total bitch to her.

Things get better over time even with more disasters and strikes against Elsie's good behavior, and it ends on a positive note.

There are sequels, Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You, How Do You Lose Those Ninth-Grade Blues? and Seventeen and In-Between (which features a now-gorgeous Elsie), neither of which are anywhere near as popular and beloved. It also has a prequel, The Fourth Grade Wizards, which gives backstories to Jack and Marianne, two minor characters.

The book has believable characterizations, very accurate dialog, and portrays the kids' home and school lives very realistically. This makes it an excellent aversion of the most common mistakes children's book authors make, considering that most of them have never been really good at portraying kids or their lives this realistically, especially while still being fun to read.

This book contains examples of:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: The rest of the class, not including Marianne.
  • Character Development: Jenny learns to be nicer and not as judgmental, while Elsie's home life improves.
  • The Cutie: Marianne, who's cheerful, somewhat childish, and nice to everyone, even Elsie when the class hates her.
  • Evil Matriarch: Every time we see Elsie's mother, we like her even less.
  • Fat Girl: Elsie.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: While the story is told by Jenny, it is mostly Elsie's story.
  • Hope Spot: Just when things get better, another disaster occurs.
  • Inner Monologue: Jenny makes jokes at Elsie's expense, but never out loud. She makes less of them as she grows to like her, but still makes a few.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The teasing Elsie endures, even before she starts to steal lunch money.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: Excellently averted. The dialog, characterizations, and concerns of the children are actually very realistic. The fact that the author is both a former teacher and former school psychologist might have something a lot to do with that.
  • Not My Driver: Shouldn't have picked the potential kidnapper for a ride, hitchhiking fools!
  • Odd Friendship: A normal, average girl and a morbidly obese bully magnet.
  • Off to Boarding School: The fate that awaits Elsie if she doesn't shape up and if her mother can't be convinced otherwise.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Or stupid, as in the hitchhiking instance. Or good, as in being nicer to Elsie. Or for that matter, evil, as in mocking Elsie because others are doing it.
  • Spoiled Brat: Robyn, Elsie's little sister
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: The hitchhiking scene.
  • The Unfavourite: Elsie is the unloved one.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Marianne is the only girl in the class to be nice to Elsie from the start. Elsie "thanks" her by stealing her lunch money first.
  • Write What You Know: The reason the book is so spot-on accurate with its portrayal of fifth-graders both in and out of school.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The hitchhiking scene, and the subsequent greater trouble it led to, would not have occurred if the kids weren't acting so dumb and impulsive then. The seven-year-old going back to the truck to retrieve her purse is the icing on the cake.