Sunday, August 01, 2021

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai and Everything Together

Florence, Debi Michiko. Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
August 3rd 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jenna, who is friends with Keiko Carter, is dealing with a few issues in her life. Her father and mother have recently divorced, and her father has moved to Texas. Her mother is pushing her to do better in school so that she can get scholarships, which makes sense, since Jenna has overheard her mother telling an aunt that the child support agreement doesn't cover college. Jenna has also broken up with her boyfriend, Elliott, who worked on the school newspaper with her. Since they hung out a lot, she had neglected Keiko a bit, but Keiko is now spending a lot of time with her boyfriend, Connor, and his friends. Jenna and Keiko make an effort to reconnect, and Jenna throws herself into a newspaper club contest, looking for something to investigate. She finds a new, quiet spot to hang out after school, Leigh's Stage Diner, and has a favorite booth where she has a roasted strawberry milkshake and, when she can afford it, cheese fries. When Rin Wantanabe shows up in HER booth, she is not happy, but the two start grudgingly hanging out. Jenna's friend Isabelle has decided not to do an investigative piece on why a million dollar donation was spent on the school cafeteria, so Jenna picks it up and starts to look into it. Things continue with Rin, who likes to draw, although Jenna is not pleased when he offers to pay for some of her food, and the two seem to argue a lot. When Jenna finds out that Rin's family has a connection to the donation, tensions increase.  At the same time, Jenna's father wants to come back into her life, and Jenna feels her steely resolve to not let anyone into her life dissolving. Will she be able to write a good piece for the contest AND maintain her friendships?
Strengths: I love the fact that this is a companion to Keep it Together, Keiko Carter, but doesn't have to be read with it. It reminds me a bit of Lisa Yee's Millicent Min, Emily Ebers, and Stanford Wong, which all focus on different friends, or Claudia Mills' After School Super Stars. Jenna is struggling to balance all of her activities and friendships, and also has to take care of herself; her mother does want texts from her, but she is allowed a bit more leeway in where she goes, although she is still not allowed to use the stove. It's good to see the parameters that actual tweens have to deal with represented in literature! Jenna's attitude that she should lock her feelings away is balanced by the very on-trend attempts by Keiko to get her friend to open up. There aren't a lot of books that deal with EX-boyfriends, so it was interesting to see how Jenna dealt with Elliott still being around her at school. The diner was a fun setting, and reading this made me REALLY hungry for a strawberry milkshake. 
Weaknesses: There hasn't been a school newspaper at my middle school for over 25 years, so books involving school newspaper tend not to circulate very well. Since this is tied to another book, however, I think it will circulate. 
What I really think: The first book has circulated well, and there is always a need for books involving light romances and friend drama, so I will definitely  purchase this. 

Klas, Benjamin. Everything Together (Second Dad Summer #2)
August 1st 2021 by Red Chair/One Elm
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Jeremiah is back in Minneapolis to spend the summer with his dad and his fiance, Michael, as they are planning their wedding for August. Michael, who works in a grocery store and is very unique, is creating a lot of Pinterest worthy crafts for the wedding, in teal and cocoa, and Jeremiah frequently gets roped into helping. While he's excited to be back to hang out with his friend Sage, he is a bit rebuffed to find that she has a new best friend, Asha. Jeremiah doesn't like to share his friends, so the two don't spend quite as much time bike riding. There's still a bit of it, and Jeremiah has grown enough that he needs a new bike, and his dad treats him to a really nice one. With time on his hands, he agrees to work at the Bridge, where Sage's one mother works, to help immigrants settle in the US. He really enjoys learning about other cultures and helping out. He also makes a friend in Asha's twin brother, Asad, and the two hang out, biking around and going to Asad's father's coffee shop, Bulshada. There is a racial incident when the Bridge community garden is destroyed, but the neighborhood rallies around. As the wedding approaches, Michael gets more and more nervous, and bad weather threatens some of the plans for the outdoor wedding. While the summer wasn't exactly the same as the one before, Jeremiah still has a good time visiting his father. 
Strengths: There have got to be a lot of children from divorced families who spend summers with a noncustodial parent, and who have to make friends and find things to do. Jeremiah's Minneapolis neighborhood is a very fun, active, and inclusive place. Last summer, in Second Dad Summer, he was working with the garden, so it's good to mix things up with him working at the Bridge. His friendship with Sage is understandable, and it's nice to see him befriend Asad, and also think through what effective charity is like. This is a quick read that will appeal to elementary readers who want to read about older characters with more freedom, or to middle school students who are interested in summer stories. 
Weaknesses: What kind of heathen ModPodges crocheted doilies to balloons to make lanterns. I...feel...faint... (I also own a LOT of hand crocheted doilies, and yes, put them under things on wooden furniture. I'm pretty sure my female ancestors would actively haunt me if I ModPodged them to anything.)
What I really think: This is a great book showing vibrant LGBTQIA+ communities and includes themes of racial justice as well without becoming overly political, which will add to the longevity of the book. 

Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. I really liked Keiko's story. I look forward to reading this one! (Interesting point about the school newspaper, though.)