Monday, March 18, 2019

MMGM- Focused

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Gerber, Alyson. Focused.
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Clea really wants to do well in school, and thinks it is her own fault that she doesn't get all of her work done and forgets to study for some things. It's hard enough to get out of the house in the morning, but if she would just buckle down and worked harder, she would do okay. It's hard to juggle school AND chess team, but she loves to play, especially since her best friend Red is on the team with her. When she fails several assignments, the school contacts her parents and suggests that Clea get tested for ADHD. Clea is angry-- she's not one of THOSE kids who cause disruptions and use ADHD as an excuse-- but her parents take her anyway to try to figure out why she struggles so much. In the meantime, Clea makes a new friend in teammate Sanam, and realizes that Dylan isn't as mean as she thought he was... and she may actually "like-like" him. There's a lot of drama about who will be able to compete in chess team tournaments, and dealing with a mean-girl teammate doesn't help, although the advisor, Mr. Lee, is very understanding. When the diagnosis comes in, Clea is given a number of coping strategies as well as medicine to try. The medicine doesn't help at the beginning, but after she gets used to it, she finds that her condition was also behind some of her problems with her friends, because she would get frustrated and angry quickly, and blurt things out before thinking. Clea learns to advocate for herself with her teachers, asking for her accommodations of extra time or a different environment to complete tests. She also gets used to budgeting her time and using logs and timers to keep herself on track. Things aren't perfect, but Clea feels much better about being able to handle middle school.
Strengths: This had some great characters-- I was a big fan of younger sister Henley, who was struggling with speech difficulties. This is something I haven't seen in middle grade literature much. The parents were very supportive, even though the father was out of town most of the week for work, and that was nice to see. Sanam, Red, and Dylan are all good characters, especially since they are generally understanding, but occasionally still get irritated with Clea. The most interesting part to me were the details about testing, medication, and coping strategies. Like this author's Braced, these are woven into the story in a way that doesn't slow it down.
Weaknesses: While the details of the chess tournaments make sense, and it was good to see Clea playing the game for several reasons, it slowed the story down for me.
What I really think: I will be very glad to have this in my collection. I actually have a girl who plays chess and is a very similar student to Clea. Not often that there is such an exact match for a student to see herself!


  1. I've had students who would have loved, and benefitted from, this story, seeing parts of themselves in it, and also seeing that others face similar challenges. Thanks for the review, a new title to me.

  2. I've been searching for a book like this for a student. I'll be sure to track a copy down. Thanks for introducing it to us on MMGM.

  3. Oooh, sounds interesting! And I agree that we don't see speech difficulties discussed much in this genre. I can think of Scar Island off-hand, but not much else comes to mind. Two of my children have struggled with speech and, just like everyone else, it's helpful to see that representation in their reading choices. Thanks for sharing this title, I'm heading to look it up now!

  4. I don't think I've ever read a book that features chess. This might have to be added to the bucket list right now. I am going to put in a request to my library. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for your thorough review of Focused. It seems tamer and more relatable than other books I've read about teens with ADHD. And, I especially like that Clea's sister has a speech problem. There are so few books that address that topic, especially if it is stuttering. It is important kids see themselves in stories. Sounds like a hopeful book to read!

  6. This sounds like a wonderful book. Last week, due to a teacher on call shortage, the school board took me out of my library job to fill in for a classroom teacher. In a lifetime of teaching, I've met a lot of kids with some variation of ADHD, but there was one kid in the group who was the most I have ever seen. He must have been brilliant to boot since academically he had it all under control. Thankfully he was away after lunch, or I would have left!
    I'll be looking forward to reading this.

  7. Girls with ADHD are seldom diagnosed. It's a good thing to have a book like this out there. Thanks for telling me about it.

  8. Thanks for sharing this. Hopefully we'll get this in the store.

  9. Always grateful for your middle grade recommendations - I wouldn't know about these books if not for you. Will add this to my Goodreads To-Find stack. :)