Monday, May 14, 2018

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari

Emily would like things to stay the same:  for her and her BFF Hazel to continue to obsess over Unicorn Chronicles books, for her father to not have moved out, for her sister to come back home and be healthy, and maybe for middle school to not even exist.  Because what Emily is finding is that the world keeps changing and rarely for the better.  So, instead, she has to learn to adapt to parents who are divorced, an older sister with an eating disporder, and new friends and new hobbies at school.

After a bunch of teen books, it's fun to slip back into the comfortable world of middle grade reading.  The issues are so much clearer and simpler and the stories are more likely to end happily.  But this book, like many others, does seem to delight in piling on the problems.  The trauma of growing apart from one's best friend is hard enough, but we have to toss in split families and mental disease as well!  It feels like a bit much and, in the end, these subplots do get neglected.

But what is strong here is Emily's ability to stand up for herself, even in the face of peer pressure and acknowledge (after some painful growing) that people do change and it's OK in the end.  It's not a surprising message, but it's arrived at in a way that will be comforting to young readers.  Ultimately charming, the book portrays an intelligent and intuitive girl living in a supportive and nurturing environment (in spite of the challenges her family are facing).

An age appropriate discussion of eating disorders and how to get help at the end of the book will be useful to readers who are about to embark on the traumatic landscape of adolescence.

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