Lauren, who has autism spectrum disorder, is back for a second outing following Slug Days (2017).
Lauren, her parents, and her baby sister have made the long car trip (“two days, eight movies, four chapter books, and three throw-ups”) to get to Auntie Joss’ North Dakota farm. Lauren is—very reluctantly—going to be one of three flower girls in her aunt’s wedding. A scratchy dress, a little vomit, and an accidental fall into the calves’ stall will all get in the way, although Lauren’s dislike of new situations and a bad case of stage fright are the biggest challenges. Lauren relates her prickly feelings in a believably forthright voice that offers readers welcome insight into her perspective. Her emerging understanding of facial expressions helps her relate her parents’ and teacher’s periodic frustrations with her difficulties, yet their occasional annoyance is neatly juxtaposed against her thoughts and feelings. Just when she’s feeling the most vulnerable and alone, her cousins find the perfect way to smooth her bumpy path, cementing their role in her life. Bender’s soft, gentle illustrations expand and illuminate Lauren’s narrative. Plenty of white space and short chapters make this empathetic effort extra accessible to a broad audience. Lauren and her family present white; her cousins, who all have straight, black hair, are biracial, but their ethnicity is unspecified.
Another fine and enlightening peek into Lauren’s unique, often challenging world that displays her differences but highlights the needs she shares with all children: love, acceptance and friendship. (Fiction. 5-9)