Amy Goldman Koss has a keen ear for the subtle manipulations and horrors of high school and middle school (The Girls, Gossip Times Three). Her latest concerns Ivy, a social outcast who has borne unceasing misery at the hands of the Anns, a trio of Mean Girls (only one of whom, the Queen Bee, is actually named Ann).
Ivy's well-meaning but socially tone-deaf teacher, Ms. Gold, tries to teach her students the ins and outs of the American justice system by staging an in-class civil trial, with Ivy as the plaintiff and the Anns as defendents. The attorneys and judge are chosen randomly; the jury pool is assembled through a few choice lies and manipulations. Other minor characters fill the roles of court reporter and process server.
The story unfolds through multiple narrators, a device that can be tiresome but here mostly works. I was struck by the casual inattention of some characters: Cameron the process server, who has a wonderful, dopey voice, has no idea who many of his classmates are, and his clumsy not-quite-romance with painfully shy plaintiff's counsel Daria was the best part of the novel, for me.
The ending is, as Lear would say, nasty, brutish, and short. There is no redemption here; no comeuppance, and one only hopes that the throwaway comment about suicide is just another bit of cruel gossip. Despite the unbelievability of the premise (I've taught high school kids, and that kind of roleplay is just asking for trouble), I did find this compelling.
Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss. Roaring Brook, 2006, 176 pages.