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.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe (YA)

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Pleasure reading: 5/5

Great YA book! This will be on my top YA book list for the year.

Norris Kaplan, a black French Canadian, born to immigrant Haitian (now divorced) parents, is forced to move to Austin, Texas, so that his mother can follow up on a rare opportunity: a tenure track position at UT Austin as a Creole and Patois scholar. He leaves behind a reasonable (to him) climate, his hockey team, and his best friend. He doesn’t like Texas, or the U.S., or cheerleaders, or football jocks. He doesn’t like the heat, or the constant sweating, or the requisite T-shirt changes. It made sense to him that everything in Texas was bigger: “With this much heat, you needed shadows.” He makes a lot of negative assumptions about everyone he meets, even as he is sure they are making negative assumptions about him.

It’s the classic “Outsider in High School” plot line, but executed beautifully, unconventionally, and laugh-out-loud funny. Norris is grumpy and always expects the worst of everyone. Almost against his will, he makes a friend (Liam — the monk — who Norris admits is “an aggressively chill human being”), helps a cheerleader with her work schedule in exchange for dating tips, and even begins to see the jocks (embodied by Patrick aka “Hairy Armpits”) in a new light.

An hysterical, coming-of-age story, where I liked the protagonist a lot at the beginning, but liked him even more by the end.

Great quotes:
“Texas cheerleaders really are just laboratory-engineered little bags of evil, aren’t they?”

“As he suspected, Original Thought had died in the desert on its way to Texas, baked under the sun for a few miles, and been slaughtered for sustenance when provisions had dwindled.”

“It wasn’t that he didn’t know what to do at parties. He just found them viscerally boring: like getting dressed for a big night out and then spending your evening in an intermission lobby, bumping against people you vaguely recognize and fumbling to align conversation topics for brief windows of validation.”

Maddie (the cheerleader) wants to help him with his dating disasters: “We’re talking about dating here. I’m the genius janitor, there’s a complex equation on the chalkboard after hours … Give me some chalk and let me solve it!”