Jennifer Chan is Missing by Tae Keller (Middle School)

12-year old Mallory Moss is a worrier. She knows that people are really “just a collection of what other people think about us.” So although she thinks her own opinion matters, she is sure that what others think matters even more. And this becomes a problem when she meets Jennifer — the intriguing new girl who enthusiastically and loudly believes in aliens and is never going to fit in with the kids at school.

This is a coming of age story both about an outsider (based on beliefs, not color or ethnicity) and a girl who is intent on always fitting in, even in the face of unfairness, meanness, and outright bullying of others. Excellent writing, good messaging with a variety of sources: parents, religion(s), and introspection.

Some good quotes:
“At services tonight, the rabbi talked about forgiveness, how it’s not only between you and God. He said God exists in the relationships between people, so forgiveness is between you and the person you hurt.”

“Why are people so afraid to believe? Well, Jennifer, maybe because it’s impossibly embarrassing to be proven wrong.”

“It’s so easy to talk bad about someone. It’s so easy to bond over hating someone else. It’s almost scary how naturally it comes.”

“Maybe. But sometimes I think complicated is the word people use when they don’t want to think too hard.”

“Confession isn’t about telling our secrets to God. God already knows. It’s about revealing our true hearts to ourselves, because we can’t know who we are when we’re hiding from who we’ve been.”

“I had to make her understand that this mattered — what people thought had everything to do with who she was. Because how do we know who we are without knowing our place in the world?”

Thank you to Random House Children’s and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 26th, 2022.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Writing: 5 Characters: 4.5 Plot: 4.5

Another middle school age book snuck into my (overwhelmingly large) pending reading pile yesterday by means of the “bookseller recommends” shelf at the local Indie bookstore. Inspiring, heart warming, and laugh-out-loud funny, it features a 12 year-old, highly gifted misfit as its heroine. Willow Chance is a happily adopted, probable genius, with obsessions for medical conditions and plants. She prefers “large talk” to small talk.

As a warning, what starts as a funny book takes a nosedive on page four when Willow comes home to police cars and finds out that her parents have both been killed in a car accident. That felt like a smack in the face. Keep reading — the book gets better and better after that inauspicious start. Mai Nguyen, who only recently met Willow at the counselor’s office where her brother was also “seen,” manages to get her mother to temporarily take Willow in — to their subpar dwellings in the garage behind her mother’s nail salon. Dell Duke is the fairly unlikable, total loser of a guidance counselor, but he too has a pretty interesting (and unexpected) role to play in the proceedings. The action takes off from there.

Though race is not emphasized, most of the characters are clearly of mixed race — Willow is adopted and states that she is “a person of color”; Mai’s mother is the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and a black GI, and her children have a Mexican father (who left years ago). Did I mention that the action takes place in Bakersfield, California? Not sure I’ve ever come across Bakersfield as a novel venue before.

I could not put this book down — started it around 3pm and finished before I went to bed. Willow is a character you will love — reminiscent of Harriet the Spy or Eleanor Oliphant, middle school style. You will also love the impact she has on those around her. What emerges is a story about family, communities knitting together on the fly, and determination. Fantastic read for adults and middle schoolers alike.

Some favorite lines:

“The instructor, Mrs. King, had just plowed her way through a popular picture book. It featured the hallmarks of most pre-school literature: repetition, some kind of annoying rhyming, and bold-faced scientific lies.” (about her pre-school experience)

“The teenage boy and the man are as close to wild animal observation as anything I’ve seen.”

“When the soil is too alkaline, which can be thought of as being too sweet, you need to add sulfur. I explain this, but I can tell that it’s not a spellbinding discussion for the people I live with.”

“What is more temporary than nail polish? No wonder she has such an attachment to the concept.”

 

The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel

Thank you to Running Press Kids and NetGalley for an early review copy of The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel, which will publish October 2, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.
Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 3.5/5

#middle school readers

A sweet retelling of John Hughes’ iconic “The Breakfast Club” with a cast of middle schoolers and an old-age home twist. The “Rebel”, the “Flirt”, the “Drama Queen”, the “Nobody”, and the “Athlete,” are serving detention by spending the last day of summer vacation helping out in an old folk’s home. Needless to say, they aren’t thrilled. Through a pretty convoluted and fast paced plot, they come to terms with who they are, who they want to be, how to prevent bullying, and how better to understand and have compassion for the aging process. It’s heartwarming, interesting, and even tearful at times. While the bulk of the teachers, counselors, and therapists are good people with good messages, there are also some candid depictions of some not-so-great teachers and quite a few absent and / or deficient parents.

The Reckless Club is reasonably well written with attention given to shifting gender stereotypes (for example, the “Athlete” and the “Rebel” are both girls and the female residents of the old-age home are anything but dull). A number of background situations for each student emerge including divorces, absent or nasty parents, bullying, and unpleasant teachers and school situations. Overall a lot of positive messages about aging as well as getting along with other people in general — the students learn compassion, understanding, and the meaning of friendship as applied both to each other and the old folks they have reluctantly come to help.