Title: Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 132
When Tish is given an English assignment to write in a journal regularly, she’s less than thrilled. A poor student and often overlooked by adults, she finds comfort in writing private journal entries (when she puts a ‘private’ header on the top, Mrs. Dunphrey can look over it but can’t read it.) As the journal progresses, we find out Tish’s dad is abusive and she’s often in charge of taking care of her (possibly mentally slow?) younger brother.
She and her brother live with their mom for a while but then her dad comes back into her life, and her mom falls under his spell. When he leaves, their mom abandons them and Tish is left in an increasingly desperate situation as she tries to pay the bills and look after her brother. Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey is a emotionally affecting and fast-paced novel for middle graders, and Tish is a compelling character with a strong voice.
I liked how she was a lousy student and hangs out with somewhat disreputable popular girls, which separated her from the vast majority of middle grade and YA heroines. Despite her slightly rough exterior the reader can see that Tish is a good person who cares deeply for her brother, and her dedication to him leads her to take up way too much responsibility. She feels like she can’t reach out for help because she doesn’t want to be separated from him.
Even though the ending is pretty predictable, I still found it satisfying and I wanted to learn more about Tish’s life after the story ended. One thing I wished had been done differently was Tish’s easy forgiveness of her mother- she might have been abused by her husband but she was disgustingly negligent and didn’t deserve sympathy. I understand that forgiving her mom might have been important to Tish’s sanity, but I just didn’t buy the whole ‘mom did her best’ explanation at the end and I felt there should have been more ambivalence.