In a series of anecdotes, Carolyn tells us about her neighbors, the pranks she plays with her brothers, and the trouble she gets in to. Some of the anecdotes are funny, while others are revealing, and some are even both. As for an actual story, there isn't much here: she spends the summer getting into trouble and the school year butting heads with mean teachers and giggly girls. And her mother is having a baby.
I liked Flipped a lot and was hoping for more of the same, but this is an earlier work and not quite as polished. And it is also a bit dated. Although published in 1997, it references vinyl records several times as if anyone born in the last twenty-five years has had any significant exposure to them. The writing style has a nice folksy down home feeling to it and the settings are warm and friendly so it's a good read, but not exactly classic literature.
One other thing that dates the book is a mention of a spanking early in the book. Corporal punishment doesn't find its way into many children's books anymore (much the same way that smoking has largely disappeared from movies). While statistically speaking, most children have experienced getting hit by their parents, it strangely never occurs in literature. I understand the reasons to paint such an idealistic vision, but I found Van Draanen's inclusion of it (neither graphic nor particularly long) a realistic touch and the sort of thing that real 8-11 year old readers (the target audience) would relate to.