Here are some more books I read for my KidLitCon panel on taboo topics in middle grade this year. I’d previously read and very much enjoyed her Star Crossed, but she has written a lot of books, all with very real-feeling kids facing serious issues. I was also privileged to read a very early version of her upcoming book, Maybe He Just Likes You, which she was talking about at KidLitCon. It was such an early version, though, that I’m not going to review it here. I’ll refer you to her column about it at the Nerdy Book Club, and say that E-ARCs are now available from Edelweiss if reading ARCs is your thing.
Everything I Know about You by Barbara Dee. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Tally and her 7th grade class are going on their big trip to DC. It should be exciting – but things aren’t going the way Tally had thought. She’d wanted to room with her two best friends, Spider (a boy) and Sonnet. But she’s assigned to room with Ava, the lead “clonegirl” and Tally’s enemy. Spider is assigned to room with Marcus, a boy who bullied him a few years ago. Tally is horribly worried that Spider will be victimized again, and, like Tai in So Done, hurt that he feels he’s outgrown the nickname she gave him. Who is she if she isn’t her friends’ protector?
Tally herself is the opposite of fashion- and body-conscious, enjoying her strength, her squishy belly, and not-fashionable fashion statements, such as decorative cat-eye glasses with bowling shirts. But rooming with Ava makes it clear that Ava isn’t the perfect person she always appeared to be, struggling with her mother, one of the chaperones, and not eating at meals, going so far as to take uneaten food back to her room to throw away. What can or should Tally do for her, especially when there’s such a long history of dislike?
Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Norah is returning to seventh grade after 2 years of leukemia treatments. She’s ahead in school from her years of nothing but tutoring, but her physical growth and social development are behind. (The flat chest and short post-chemo hair lead to some unwelcome misgendering.) It’s hard for people to figure out if she’s broken and needs to be treated with extreme care, or so well that she shouldn’t be asking for special treatment, when the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Her former best friend Silas won’t talk to her, while her other best friend, Harper, tries and fails to understand her, and has new friends at school. When Norah herself makes a new friend, Griffin, in her 8th grade math class, she struggles with how much and what to tell him.
My own daughter has spent enough time in the hospital for me to recognize the details of children’s hospitals depicted here – solidarity with hospital kids and their families! Norah’s separated parents and her step-mother all try their best to work together to take care of Norah as she moves between needing lots of hands-on care and more independence. Norah’s drawing and doodling help her to understand herself better, and a project on Greek myths leads her to the central metaphor of the book, as Norah, like Persephone, moves between two very different worlds. It is so very welcome and needed to read a book about a kid with serious health issues that avoids both the tragic and unwarranted rainbows.