Saturday, September 01, 2018

After Zero

32194556Collins, Christina. After Zero.
September 4th 2018 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Elise has led a very sheltered life but is now attending the public school. She has found the transition to be very difficult, and her single mother (her father died in a car crash when she was a baby) isn't very supportive. Her one friend, Mel, still attempts to be nice to her, but after making a few unfortunate attempts at conversation after her arrival at the school, Elise has decided to try to say as few words as she can during the day, keeping a tally in her notebook. It's okay to talk to her mother, who doesn't seem to like her very much but is oddly overprotective and distanced at the same time, so her mother doesn't know the extent of her problems at school, and the teachers haven't informed her that Elise's grades are suffering because she won't participate in class. After finding out an alarming secret about her family's past, she runs away and manages to spend a few days with a large family who have recently sent two of their nine children, Fin and Conn, to Elise's school. Elise just can't face her mother until her 13th birthday, when her mother has promised to explain the secrets. Unfortunately, she is accused of stealing money from Fin and Conn's brother (who actually stole the money from her) and is kicked out of their house. Eventually, Elise returns home and is able to make some sense, with her mother's help, of the shipwreck of her life.
Strengths:There are not a lot of books about selective mutism (Giff's Jubilee and Hubbard's Watch the Sky come to mind), but this is the only #ownvoices title I've seen. The reasons Elise chooses not to talk, and the way she deals with the fall out from her choices are very believable. There is a helpful epilogue by the author that explains a bit more and gives resources.
Weaknesses: There are so many bad things that happens to Elise that her circumstances became less believable and diluted the effect of the most important issue for me.
What I really think: There are now SO MANY topics on which there is only one opinion allowed in middle grade literature, and mental health is right up there on that list. You couldn't pay me to say what I really think, other than saying that I should be allowed to have a very strong personal feeling that it is not particularly good for children to read about parents who let grief unhinge them. I know others disagree, and they are certainly allowed to.

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