11 Birthdays is a children's time loop novel written by Wendy Mass and first published in 2009 by Scholastic Press. It is the first novel in the Willow Falls series and it follows the life of a young girl named Amanda Ellerby who has spent each of her first ten birthdays with the same boy, Leonard Fitzpatrick. With her 11th birthday fast approaching, a falling out between the two friends has caused a shift in this birthday tradition leading to consequences both of them never could have imagined. Chosen as a 2009 Library Guild Selection, this humorous novel has been the recipient of various nominations and awards across the country.
The novel begins 11 years before the present time; Angelina D’Angelo rushes through the halls of the Birthing Center stopping right in front of the nursery window to look at the newborn babies in the room. She spots the two little babies she ultimately came to see; she has waited a long time for this day to arrive. Both parents to the babies appear next to her and they exchange stories about each one and they tell the Ellerbys that they are naming their son Leonard Fitzpatrick, after his great-grandfather. The Ellerbys exclaim that they are naming their daughter after her great-grandmother, Amanda Ellerby. While an “uneasy feeling, like they were remembering something out of a storybook someone read to them when they were children”(Mass 3), runs through them, Angelina takes this moment to tell them that “being born on the same day is very special”(Mass 3). She predicts that they will be the best of friends and makes them promise they will celebrate this day together every year before rushing off again. Even though they had promised, both the Ellerbys and the Fitzpatricks walked away believing they would never see each other again.
Ten years before the present time, on Amanda and Leo’s first birthday, both the Ellerbys and Fitpatricks are astonished to find themselves together again by pure chance. It turns out that both families have been booked into the same birthday room at the Magic Castle Birthday Party Palace by mistake. They laugh it off and spend Amanda and Leo’s birthday together, watching the two bond and even take their first steps together.
It is now the night before Amanda and Leo’s 11th birthday and Amanda is busy practicing back handsprings with her best friend Stephanie. She’s nervous and worried about hurting herself but Stephanie encourages her because gymnastics tryouts are tomorrow at school and they both need to get on the team in order to befriend the popular girls. Stephanie leaves as Amanda’s mother arrives home from work, which leads to a discussion about Amanda’s birthday party tomorrow. Amanda notices that her mother has sent Leo an invitation to her party and gets upset because she’s still angry about something she overheard Leo say a year ago. Amanda and Leo had spent every single birthday together but on the night of their tenth birthday, Amanda overheard Leo tell his friends that he thought it was stupid that he had to spend his birthday with a girl but she doesn’t have many other friends so he wouldn’t want to tell her and hurt her feelings. After that Amanda refused to speak to Leo , even going as far as eradicating him from her life such as locking away all pictures of them and even throwing her flowerpot that she had hand painted with Leo on their 5th birthday, along with the plant in it that at the time she “was sure would never grow”(Mass 19), out the window.
The whole day of Amanda and Leo’s birthday seems to go from bad to worse for her. It starts with her having to take the bus to school, where she realizes she forget her lunch, and then there is a pop quiz in class. She then fails her cheer team tryouts and doesn’t make the team even though. Lisa does and when it comes time for her birthday party it seems as if most of her friends end up ditching it in favor of Leo’s. The night ends with her finding out that her mother has been fired from her job because she had mistakenly switched an important work presentation with her sister’s science presentation. Amanda is relieved that she only turns 11 once and she goes to bed.
When Amanda wakes up the next morning it seems as if the whole day is playing out exactly like the day before. At first she believes everybody is playing a cruel joke but finally it dawns on her that it is the day of her birthday all over again! She does everything exactly the same as before, afraid to change any details. It’s only when she’s getting ready for her party and has to slip on the shoes to her costume that she realizes she has blisters because of them from the night before. She now knows she’s not dreaming or crazy, and that she’s stuck in a time loop!
The next morning is exactly the same as the previous two days but this time Amanda decides to fake sick and stay home. Her neighbor takes her to the doctor where she lets slip something about an old family feud between the Ellerbys and the Fitzpatricks but she doesn’t know much about it, so Amanda doesn’t pursue it. Her party ends up being cancelled and she spends the night with her family.
In the morning, Amanda realizes that she’s still stuck on the same day. Frustrated and confused she goes to school but this time, while she’s sitting in class, she sees Leo wink at her. The two of them are stuck in this time loop together! They decide to “lie low” and “compare notes” (Mass 106) after their parties but they are unable to do this because Amanda becomes grounded later that night over a misunderstanding.
Amanda is relieved the next morning when nobody remembers that they are angry with her and she is no longer grounded. She even remembers to remind her mom about taking the right presentation. At school, Amanda and Leo finally get the chance to talk. He apologizes to her for the things he said and tells her he only said them because he wanted to look cool in front of his friends. They both agree that they miss each other and become friends again. It’s decided that tomorrow they are going to actually go out and have fun.
The next morning Amanda fakes sick and stays home. When her dad falls asleep, she sneaks out to meet up with Leo. Leo has the whole day planned and it starts with them going for breakfast where Leo orders lots of food he would never normally get to eat. He then leads her to an open mike poetry reading where he gets up in front of the crowd and reads some of his own poetry. Leo then proceeds to take Amanda to an audition for a band looking for a drummer. After much coaxing Amanda agrees to try out. She’s so good that band members are impressed, but they tell her she is too young but to come back when she is older. Exhilarated, the two finally head to the mall where security grabs them and turns them over to their families who are worried sick about them.
Amanda is relieved again the next morning when everything is reverted. The day goes as it normally does but after school Amanda and Leo go visit the Senior Community Center and ask around about the family feud that Amanda’s neighbor had previously mentioned. They find out that their grandfathers used to own competing apple groves and they would always do things to try and harm the others’ farm; it got to the point where it would interfere with the town. Then, randomly, they made up and nobody knows why. Amanda and Leo still need more answers so they decide to go to the Willow Falls Historical Society the next day.
When they go to the Willow Falls Historical Society they find Angelina there. She tells them that the town had sought the help of someone special who told the two men that they had to patch up their differences by the Harvest Day or else there would be consequences. Angelina claims she doesn’t know anymore and the only thing that would have more information would be a journal that was stolen a while ago. Amanda and Leo ultimately come back the next day to sneak into the historical society and look around for the journal because they think she actually stashed the journal somewhere in the place. They end up finding Leo’s great-grandfather’s journal instead which revealed that because they didn’t heed the woman’s warning and patch things up within the year they went through a time loop as well until they resolved their differences and fixed all the damaged they caused. Amanda and Leo are confused because they made up a week ago but they are still stuck. They decide to help everyone that they possibly can tomorrow in hopes that it will fix things.
The whole next day Amanda and Leo help everybody that they possibly can, such as reminding her mother about the presentation mix up, even though her mother still gets fired, suggesting that some things are meant to be. Amanda even makes the cheer team! During their birthday parties they decide to merge them and both Leo and Amanda have high hopes they have broken the time loop.
In the morning, Amanda realizes that she is celebrating her birthday again for the 11th time! She is frustrated but when she gets on the bus she sees the Angelina is the bus driver and ultimately she gives her and Leo some answers. She reveals that she was the one who put the spell their great-grandfathers and was worried that it would transfer over to them. She insists that this shouldn’t have happened though because on their 5th birthday she gave them plants protecting them from the curse. As long as they had the plants close they shouldn’t have fallen into the time loop. Leo claims that’s his is still sitting in his room but Amanda admits that she threw hers out the window a year ago on the night of their tenth birthday. Angelina makes them hurry back to class where everything goes as normal, except this time Amanda tries out for the marching band instead of the cheer team, something she secretly had wanted to do the whole time. When Amanda gets home from school she is relieved to find the plant still in the bushes under her window and she returns it back to its place in her bedroom. Both Amanda and Leo decide that they are just going to have one big party together this time where they spend the night laughing together just like old times.
To both Amanda and Leo’s relief, the next morning is finally the day after their birthday. They have finally broken the enchantment! They are happy and relieved it is finally over and they end up making a pact that they will always stay in touch with each other so that it won’t happen again.
The novel, 11 Birthdays, was positively received by both the general public and literary critics. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books published a review by Jeannette Hulick, which states that 11 Birthdays “is imaginatively developed and kid-pleasing. The now-tenuous/now-tenacious quality of the book’s middle-grade friendships will ring true to its audience, and Amanda’s voice is likable and humorous.” Publishers Weekly also states, “Like a Groundhog Day for middle grade readers, Mass’s (11 Birthdays) winning story features a girl seemingly trapped in her 11th birthday. Amanda seems doomed to relive her failed try-out for the gymnastics team, her mother being fired from her job and, worst of all, the party that even her best friend leaves early—to go to the party hosted by her former friend, Leo. The two have celebrated every previous birthday together (they were born on the same day), but a misunderstanding on their 10th has gone unresolved. Girls will relate to Amanda’s insecurities, and the confidence and insights she gains will resonate with them. Mass’s expertise with pacing keeps the story moving at a lively clip, and her understanding of this age group is as finely honed as ever.” 11 Birthdays has been nominated for and received numerous awards throughout the country, including the William Allen White Award for grades 3-5 in 2012, and has been chosen a 2009 Library Guild Selection.
The novels of the Willow Falls series have varying protagonists, who become friends. They all revolve around birthdays and are set in the same small town with the mysterious Angelina.11 Birthdays (2009)
13 Gifts (2011)
The Last Present (2013)