Jackson Pearce, In the Spotlight (Ellie, Engineer #3), Bloomsbury Publishing Australia, January 2020, 208 pp., RRP $22.99 (hbk), ISBN 99781547601851
Ellie Bell’s greatest love is engineering. Wherever she goes, she takes her trusty tool belt. If a problem arises, she is quick to engineer a solution. But when her friend Kit convinces her to take part in a beauty pageant, Ellie discovers the expectations on her to dress up and be more ladylike take her a long way out of her comfort zone.
Much of this pressure comes from Melody Harris, who regularly competes with Kit to win first place in pageants. Melody has a very clear idea about what is acceptable behaviour for a girl, and engineering things with tools is definitely not it. But when her precious rabbit, Pancake, who helps her with her pageant talent of magic tricks, goes missing, Melody may need Ellie’s help more than she would like to admit.
At its heart, this book, which is the third in the Ellie, Engineer series, is about staying true to yourself. Ellie is swayed, at first, by Melody’s demands that she stop engineering things, but she soon comes to realise that not only is she happier when she can build and problem solve, she also feels a lot better about herself. Ellie is a delightful character, with lots of personal integrity and compassion, as well as a logical and curious mind. Through Ellie’s journey of self-acceptance, and the twists and turns of the story, two themes come through: being true to yourself, and that a talent is worthwhile even when it isn’t seen.
Ellie’s best friends are Kit, who enjoys competing in pageants and skateboarding, and Toby, who is very funny (“I’m very symmetrical” made me laugh out loud) and dreams of winning Miss Congeniality, even though he’s not actually in the pageant. Overall, the book has very well-rounded characters: even Melody is not the stereotyped bully while Ellie has a favourite tool and likes girly things such as lipstick. Gender stereotypes are overturned frequently. Ellie uses her engineering skills throughout, creating a portable skateboard ramp for Kit, changing her heels so they are more stable and building an anti-splash screen at the pool. Toby has excellent social skills, smoothing over difficult situations several times.
What makes Ellie, Engineer: In the Spotlight even more exciting are its illustrations: diagrams and plans of Ellie’s engineered creations, as well as science-based tricks. At the end there is a section on electricity so readers can discover more about circuits, atoms and more. There is even a recipe for creating insulating dough. A fun middle school chapter book.
Reviewed by Rachel le Rossignol