Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Abby, Tried and True

Gephart, Donna. Abby, Tried and True
March 9th 2021 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When her best friend and neighbor, Cat, moves with her professor  mother to Israel, Abby is devastated to think about starting 7th grade without her. While Abby's brother Paul (who frequently calls her "Abs" or "Six-Pack") is outgoing and more than happy to help their mother Rachel with her online cooking show, Abby finds it hard to make friends. It's an added insult when a new family rents Cat's house, and Abby trips while walking her dog Miss Lucy and humiliates herself in front of a boy her age. However, Conrad turns out to be just a year older, very cute, and wants to walk to school with Abby and spend time with her. The summer winds to a close, and when Paul comes back from being a counselor at a camp, something is wrong but no one is telling Abby anything. Eventually, she finds out that Paul has testicular cancer. He will need surgery and then four rounds of chemotherapy. Abby is terrified for her brother, and finds it hard to make it through school days filled with projects and mean girls, but takes a little comfort in the fact that Conrad's uncle also had this type of cancer, was treated, and is now fine. While her extended, close-knit Jewish family gathers to support Paul, Abby struggles with her own worries about her brother while enjoying her growing friendship and romance with Conrad. Will Abby, her two mothers, and her brother make it through this difficult time? 
Strengths: It's a sign of a well-constructed book if I can write a review without consulting my notes. This story moves along logically and quickly, and contains a lot of wonderful inclusions. I liked the Florida setting, Abby's two mothers, one of whom was Jewish, visits from grandparents, and the inclusion of lots of food descriptions (middle grade readers are a hungry bunch). Abby's changing friendships will interest readers, especially since middle school often involves losing at least one friend, and a too-good-to-be-true romance with the boy next door, complete with sweet kisses, is a great tension reliever. The focus of the book, as well as Abby's life, is Paul's cancer diagnosis and treatment, the details of which are handled in an interesting and informative way. The author's not briefly details her own battle with cancer. 
Weaknesses: As someone who had few friends in school and who struggles even today with interpersonal interactions, I was annoyed by Abby's stubborn resistance to making making friends. She does make some progress throughout the book, and Paul is portrayed as being very resilient, even though he does struggle. It also seemed odd that Abby's teachers didn't seem to know what was going on with her. Having just read several articles about "toxic positivity", I can see that this will not be the way many adult readers feel about Abby's situation. 
What I really think: I very much enjoy Gephart's work, and Abby, Tried and True is a great addition to the very small canon of middle grade books involving relatives with cancer, which includes Harrell's Wink (2020), Swenden's Solving for M (2019), Dee's Halfway Normal (2017), Counting Thyme (2016) Gemeinhart's The Honest Truth (2015), Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, Lopez's Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel (2013), Schmidt's Send Me a Sign (2012),  Rallison's Just One Wish (2009) and Paulsen's Notes from the Dog (2009) and Scott and Borgman's Zits: Chillax (2013). I would not mind seeing a book from the point of view of a teen boy dealing with testicular cancer himself, if it is most common in males aged 15-35.

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