Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Thing I'm Most Afraid Of

Levine, Kristin. The Thing I'm Most Afraid Of
June 15th 2021 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1993, Becca is not thrilled with the fact that her parents have divorced, and her father has taken a job in Vienna. When they decide that she will spend the summer visiting him while her mother, a teacher, back packs around Europe, this feels like a disaster. Becca is very anxious, and even though she is working with a therapist, she still has issues with just about everything. To cope with her anxiety, she keeps a journal of worst case scenarios, which helps a little, but she has certainly never planned for anything like this! It doesn't help that her father is dating a woman named Katrina, who has a son Becca's age, Felix. The two have hired an au pair, Sara, who is a refugee from Sarajevo, Bosnia, where there is a lot of fighting. While Sara managed to get out of the city, her mother and younger brother did not, so Sara is always trying to talk to people to see if she can find them. When she finds out about Sara's problems, Becca feels a bit silly about freaking out about going on a Ferris wheel or riding a bike, and along with Felix, she makes a list of things she would like to do, like attend a crowded event and eat a soft boiled egg. There are a few children whom Feliz knows who meet up to take a dance class, so Becca slowly makes some friends. She slowly makes progress, and manages to see some of Vienna, but when she, Sara, and Felix make a trip to Sarajevo. Sara is arrested on the way back, and it takes the parents, as well as a friend's mother who is an immigration lawyer, to locate her and bring her home. As the summer winds down, Becca begins to realize that adventure doesn't have to equal risk, and she looks forward to visiting her father again. 
Strengths: Like Standiford's The Boy on the Bridge, this book was prompted by the author's own time in Vienna as an au pair, so the details of daily life are beautifully done. I loved her note on putting together all of the elements of the story! Sara's predicament is very timely, given all of the trouble in the world that is displacing people in a similar way, and it's interesting to see how this was handled historically. 
Weaknesses: I understand why Levine portrayed Becca's anxiety, and this is certainly something I see with students today. However, in 1993, there were very few students who would have admitted to being anxious. It never seems to be very interesting to read about, and I'm not sure how much it helps students who are anxious. Still, very much on trend.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since this covers an interesting time period that I haven't seen covered before. My students enjoy travel books, and despite the problems, was a fun story about living in another country. 

Lowry, Lois. Autumn Street
Published May 20th 1980 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Library copy 

Such a lovely and yet problematic book. In 1980, lovely would have won out, but today, I'm afraid I'm going to have to categorize this as problematic.

"It was a long time ago." This is how the book starts, and it's so true.

Lowry is a beautiful writer, and if she wants to evoke a particular time, and a particular feeling, she does a great job. The details about life in the 1940s, during World War II, are fantastic. Using white ink on the black pages of scrap books? That's a detail you can't research. Even the existence of maid and cooks and nannies is something that we've kind of forgotten as a society.

But it's problematic. While it's great that Elizabeth is friends with Charles, the son of the Black cook Tatie, there are a lot of racial issues at play. At one point, the n-word is used by Elizabeth, in an... affectionate? Kidding? Teasing? way that we just... can't anymore. Never really could, but definitely can't now. I also found the description of the shell shocked veteran's appearance to be disturbing, even though I'm sure that people existed in small towns who were just like that, and that they were treated the way Ferdie Gossett is.

I'm going to have to shelve this one with A Cricket in Times Square as one that had its moment but really can't be handed to students any more. I'd love to hear what other people think.

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