Kidlitcon is coming up! I’ll be moderating a panel called “You Can’t Say That in Middle Grade!” with four wonderful authors who are willing to tackle issues that have in the past been reserved for teen audiences, if they’re discussed at all. I will not be able to review all the books before I leave, but I’m really looking forward to our conversation!
So Done by Paula Chase. Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018.
It’s the summer before 8th grade. Tai (pronounced Tay and short for Metai) Tai doesn’t remember her Korean mother, who went back home when she was an infant, and her drug-addicted father is an inconsistent and frankly unwelcome presence in her life. She much prefers the life she has with her 40-something grandmother. (This made me feel so old, even if the grandmother leads a very active life!) has been eagerly waiting for her best friend Bean to come back to the Cove, the subsidized housing complex where they live. She’s expecting things to go back to the way they’ve always been, with Bean following along with the adventures Tai plans, even though Tai herself is changing, with a crush on cute drummer boy Rollie.
But Bean comes back from her aunt’s house wanting to go by her real name, Jamila. She isn’t comfortable being anywhere close to Tai’s father, and since he’s moved back in with his mother, she won’t go to Tai’s house. She loves ballet, so when she learns that there will be auditions for a new TAG program with lessons in dance, music, and drama, she’s all about it. A new pair of siblings, Chris and Chrissy, have moved to the neighborhood specifically to join the program, with Jamila and Chrissy bonding over their passion for ballet. Tai, though, starts to feel left out by this new friendship. And surely that little thing that happened with her father at the beginning of the summer couldn’t have anything to do with Jamila’s new reluctance to come over? Before they quite know what’s happening, the friendship that’s been the foundation of their lives seems to be falling apart.
Strong, well-rounded characters draw the reader into this story that tackles some necessary and uncomfortable topics. Chase isn’t afraid to give Tai lots of prickles, even as she ultimately has to do some soul-searching. The dark topic was balanced, though, with some strong family bond and by Jamila’s delight in her art. It’s also good to read a story set in subsidized housing that emphasizes the closeness of the neighborhood over grittiness. Book 2 in this series, Dough Boys, is due out in August.