Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Clarke is determined to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and if that means signing up for baton twirling lessons, then so be it. For if she becomes Little Miss Central Florida Tire, then her photo will be in the paper, and her absent father will see it and have to come home. However, Raymie hadn't counted on the two other girls also learning how to baton twirl (the delicate and dramatic Louisiana Elefante, who also wants to win, and the tough as nails, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who wants to sabotage the competition) throwing a spanner in the works and firmly derailing her plan.
Because, despite their differences (and without any of them intending), the three girls have formed an unlikely friendship. As they realise what is actually important to them, Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly join forces to right some wrongs and, unwittingly, whip their Floridian town into adventure. And maybe, just maybe, Raymie will get her photo in the paper after all...
This book. THIS BOOK. Okay. Deep breaths, Helen. How can I begin to describe my love for this book? With its unassuming cover, I kept picking other books to read over it (for SHAME, past me) and so was completely surprised to find myself falling in love with this book. Admittedly, this is not a grand adventure, full of twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat - no, this is a delicate and gentle dip into Florida, 1975, and is simply wonderful. Full to bursting with one of the best friendships I've read of (and, as we all know, I love me a book about friendships), and about learning who you are and coming out of your shell.
My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner.