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hard can it be to find and identify 25 different leaves and arrange them in an attractive presentation? Especially when it's fall, and you live in Vermont, where Robert Frost wrote such poems as "Birches"? Well, when you have time-management issues and life keeps happening, it can be very hard indeed. Nonna, who lives with the family, is showing signs of Alzheimer's, and her memory lapses turn the household topsy-turvy at a moment's notice. Mom, a type-A personality who doesn't get the artistic, intuitive nature that her mother and daughter share, buries her worry in her own activities and doesn't come through on some of the help she offers. Her best friend, a boy for whom she's developing feelings (and vice-versa), is smart, organized, generous, and more than willing to help, but when jealous Bianca feels Gianna is getting too close to done and trashes her project in the cross-country locker room, even Zig can't undo that.
Spoilers Ahead ... This book deals with a subject I'm not sure I've seen addressed: a tween's need for work/life balance. Even at the height of her leaf-project disorganization, it's arguable that Gianna balances life better than her nose-to-the-grindstone mother does. It comes as no surprise that in the end Gianna prevails -- she gets her project in and runs in the sectionals. What is surprising is all the twists and turns it takes to get her there, her mother's "help" at the end (but on the other hand, not surprising at all), and Gianna's refusal to turn in work that not only isn't her own, but isn't her. Her artistic presentation of her leaf project, at absolutely the last, last minute, is, in the word of the title, brilliant. Readers will love seeing this likable girl triumph in every way. While there's no neat wrap-up for Nonna, Gianna and the little brother she formerly considered pesky join forces in a project meant to help Nonna with her memory for as long as possible.
Evocation of setting is superb in this book. Gianna's relationships with Nonna and Zig are especially well done. This is a quiet book that works! Highly recommended.