Starting middle school is especially challenging for white Emily, who finds her BFF, Hazel, drifting away, is irritated by her father’s new romance, and is distressed about the return of her older sister, Mina, from inpatient therapy for anorexia.
Hazel hasn’t just lost interest in all that the two former besties cared about; she’s actively demeaning and dismissive to Emily in the company of her new, cooler friends. Emily’s father seems to feel that she shouldn’t resent his new girlfriend’s prominent position in their lives—but she does, leaving Emily feeling guilty as well as angry. Mina’s many unresolved issues with food are realistically depicted; that she’ll continue to struggle is all but certain. Emily misses the easy relationship they once shared yet resents the way her sister’s anorexia has afflicted the whole family. Still, there are bright spots. Hector, an oft-bullied Latino boy, poignantly reaches out to Emily, who desperately needs a new friend. A few other kids and a perceptive teacher also offer support. While all of them help fill the gap, it takes Emily’s growing recognition of others’ suffering, related in her authentic voice, to put her own into a better perspective. As Mina’s best friend says, “Middle school blows.”
Engaging and believably realistic, effectively combining both harrowing challenges and the support of caring individuals—often absent in this trope—which makes this a fine read. (Fiction. 10-14)