Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Hazel's Theory of Evolution

Bigelow, Lisa Jenn. Hazel's Theory of Evolution
October 8th 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Hazel lives on a farm with her two mothers and her older brother Rowan. They have a heard of goats that her Mom milks for her business of making soaps and other products, and Mimi is a lawyer in town. Because of a change in the local train schedule that affects the bus, Hazel has to go to another middle school, leaving her friend Becca behind for 8th grade. Since a girl at her old school, Kristen, was always very mean, calling Hazel "goat girl" and making fun of her for crying, Hazel wants to make sure she flew under everyone's radar. This is rather lonely, but she eventually finds a table in the cafeteria where she can sit with Yosh, an outspoken boy with a colorful Mohawk who is in a wheelchair, and Carina. Carina went to Hazel's old school, but presented as a boy then. Hazel gets along well with her, and the two slowly become friends. When a school family tree project is assigned, Hazel struggles. She wants to include Lena and Miles, babies that Mimi had who both died before they were born, but doesn't want people to make fun of her. This is an especially sensitive topic because Mimi is pregnant again, and Hazel is beside herself with fear.  Even Rowan, who just graduated from high school, took a gap year before going to college because he was concerned about his family coping. When there is a Health and Human Development project to carry around a bag of flour and treat it as if it were an infant, Hazel's concern deepens. It doesn't help that Becca has become a cheerleader, hangs out with Kristen, and doesn't often contact Hazel. When Mimi goes into premature labor, she must reach out to Becca's family for help, and she realizes that she has more support from all of her friends than she realized.
Strengths: It was interesting to see a character working on a small farm-- there is not much of that in literature. I also enjoyed Rowan as a supportive older brother. The friend drama with Becca was very true to life, and Hazel's general anxiety is on trend. It's nice to see Carina as a supporting character whose role is to be Hazel's friend and whose gender is not all that relevant. We need literature that shows all manner of characters, and Bigelow does a good job at this.
Weaknesses: I'm still not convinced that middle grade readers are overly concerned with babies. This was also my complaint about Lowry's Son. I'm old enough that miscarriages are NOT something that one talked about; it seems odd to me that Lena and Miles has names and Hazel even knew what was going on. When I was the age to be having children, this would have been something very much kept quiet. Will students share Hazel's concern?
What I really think: I think it is hard to understand but important to realize that LGBTQIA+ people sometimes congregate. There was an interview with Lisa Bunker that pointed this out, which was good for me to read because my feeling about her books was that there were a LOT of characters my students may never have met, and it might be confusing to them to have so many. This interview made me understand books with characters who might feel more comfortable with others like themselves. Is Hazel more accepting of Carina given her family background? Perhaps.
Ms. Yingling

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