A relevant drama about changing relationships in middle school.
Recommended grade level: 4-7
Pages: 224 (for ISBN 9781416978046)
Themes: loyalty to friends with whom you no longer relate vs. finding new friends, dealing with a friend who is a social outcast, racial other-ness, finding support in hard times from friends, other-ness
Summary: Ella and Z have been friends forever, but Z’s always been the “weird kid” in their class. This was okay back in 3rd or 4th grade, but by now their other friends have ditched them both. Z doesn’t care, but Ella longs to be part of a group where people won’t make fun of her.
When a new boy, Bailey, moves to town, he befriends Ella because they’re the only two black kids in the 6th grade. Bailey’s popular–popular enough to make Ella cool and give her a wider circle of friends–but only if she stops hanging out with Z. Ella faces a difficult decision: remain loyal to the boy who has been her best and only friend forever…or embrace the opportunity to become one of the popular kids as she longs to be.
But Ella’s loyalty to Z–and the secrets they share–runs deep below the surface. Is friendship with Bailey a true solution to her struggle, or just a flash in the pan? Ella’s decision will affect not just her but everyone around her. Can she make the right choice? (Source)
Who will like this book?: This book deals with the relevant topics of old friendships that undergo change in middle school; readers may find reassurance and some wisdom in reading how Ella copes with her situation.
Who won’t like this book?: There is no “bad” guy in this story. Its complex conflict and the competing interests within Ella as well as among Ella and others may make this book a challenge for readers who like a more straightforward story.
Other comments: A story about past vs. present, present vs. future, one want vs. another want, stasis vs. change, and loyalty vs. self-interest.
Readalikes: Kekla Magoon has several books about the experiences of African-American young people. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is another book about a biracial middle school girl finding her way in a primarily white environment. Similarly, Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton features a half-black girl trying to fit in (the other half is Japanese, and the book is a historical fiction novel in verse). Although many books touch on changing relationships in middle schools, I can’t think of any told from the point of view of someone wondering whether to leave a friend behind. Got one? I’d love if you shared it in the comments!