Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

Carter, Caela. Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers
ARC provided by Follett First Look
October 19th 2021 by Quill Tree Books

Gwen is always going to do better, so that she doesn't get in trouble and her teachers don't have to call her hard working single mother, but... it's hard. Even though she really wants to go to horse camp, she can't remember to moderate her behavior, and soon she is in trouble again. She's been evaluated for an IEP (individualized education plan), but there was nothing wrong with her that could be decisively identified, so Gwen has made a list of the 54 things that are "wrong" with her, from being loud, immature, and whiny to having poor impulse control. She wishes that she could have a diagnosis, like her half brother and best friend Tyler. He's been diagnosed with ADHD, and takes medication that seems to "cure" him. He's not in trouble nearly as much, and frequently helps Gwen with things like rebraiding her French braid so it is tighter, which calms her down. The two have the same father, who did not stay with either of their mothers, who now live in the same town but have significantly different lifestyles and haven't really been friends themselves. Gwen has trouble with keeping friends, as well, and is in danger of being kicked out of the after school PowerKids program, which would have a raft of bad consequences. Not only wouldn't she see Tyler and be eligible for horse camp, but her mother would struggle to find alternative care for her. When working with a doctor who knows Tyler's mother, Gwen does try a couple of different medications, but they don't quite do everything she needs. One helps her focus, but also makes her sad. The other helps a littler, but causes a lot of outbursts. Gwen does revisit some of her friendships, and eventually Hettie and Matty understand her differences a bit more and are able to stick by her. Matty is glad to be reconnected, because she is nonbinary (but still using she/her pronouns for the time being) and thought that Gwen was ignoring her because of that. With the help of a doctor who realizes that both Gwen and her mother need help, Gwen's differences are understood a bit better, and plans are put in place to help her succeed.
Strengths: This was written in a style that shed a lot of light on Gwen's state of mind-- things are always happening, and emotions swirl on every page. It's helpful to get insight into what Gwen wants to do versus what she is capable of doing, and how this disconnect makes her feel. It's also helpful to see how Gwen's behavior affects her mother and her friends. The subplot with Tyler and their shared father is one we should see more in middle grade books, because many of my students have similar life circumstances. The mother's involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous is also instructive. The dynamics with Hettie and Matty might help children who are neuroatypical see a way to navigate friendships and to share their challenges with others. The positive portrayal of the doctor, and the realistically problematic teacher experiences and inconclusive evaluations are helpful in understanding how tricky diagnoses can be. This is a great read for teachers who want to understand their students better and remember why being patient is so important.
Weaknesses: Gwen's challenges are so overwhelming that there's not room for much of a subplot. If that's harder to read, imagine how much harder it is to LIVE. There certainly is enough going on with Gwen to support an entire book. 
What I really think: This might be more popular with teachers than students, but is a great read for fans of Hunt's Fish in a Tree, Gerber's Focused, Pla's The Someday Birds. It's helpful to know that Gwen's challenges are based on the author's own experiences, and I'm glad she shared that with us. 

Ms. Yingling

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