Sunday, January 17, 2021

My Name is Layla

Gentin, Reyna Marder. My Name is Layla
January 19th 2021 by TouchPoint Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Layla (called 'munk by her family) is having a hard time of it in middle school. Not only does her family struggle financially because her father left when she was a baby and her mother works long hours as a nurse, but school is difficult for her. Older brother Nick is a big supported, but she rarely sees her harried mother, who is very negative about the absent father, Jeff. Layla has a good friend in Liza, as well as a budding romance with Sammy, who lives across the street with his supportive family. Layla's new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, is progressive in his methods if not in his choice of reading materials (The Outsiders, The Scarlet Letter, Number the Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), and tries very hard to support Layla's writing. Sammy asks her to the dance, and Layla's father moves back to town, so things seem to be looking up. However, (highlight for spoilers): her grades are not great, and when her mother is scheduled for conferences, it seems like a good idea to try to burn her papers in her locker with a lighter she took from Nick. The fire spreads to other lockers, and causes a lot of damage. Liza is angry, but tries to help Layla figure out what to do. Layla invites Jeff for Thanksgiving dinner, but her mother is still so angry that he doesn't stay, and even moves out of town. Layla comes clean about the fire and has to pay damages, although isn't charged. She eventually gets help, and is able to move forward with a few more tools to help with her dyslexia. 
Strengths: This is a short, focused book that deals with a problem that many young readers might have. Layla's struggles in school are all to prevalent, and it's good to see a teacher identify her problems, arrange for testing, and to see a learning plan put in place. The fact that Sammy is dealing with executive functioning disorder was good as well: that's a diagnosis that we are seeing more and more. The struggles with Liza, with a mother who must work very hard, and with an older brother who has his own issues are all realistic and well portrayed. I also appreciated that the school took into account Layla intent in the fire issue; most schools are reasonable about things like this, although most books portray administration as being simply "zero tolerance". 
Weaknesses: This has a bit of an After School Special vibe to it, but younger readers won't pick up on that. Even the cover seems to hark back to the 1980s. The fact that the father has been completely out of touch for so long seemed odd.
What I really think: We need more titles like Gerber's Focused that discuss some of the learning challenges that children face, and it's also good to see more books with characters struggling with financial hardships. 

Ms. Yingling

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