Saturday, January 29, 2022

Just Right Jillian

Collier, Nicole D. Just Right Jillian
February 1st 2022 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jillian is very quiet and insecure, even though her parents are really supportive. Her mother, who suffers from lupus, even runs empowerment workshops for women! Jillian is also still grieving for her grandmother, with whom she was very close, who passed away almost a year ago. School is especially difficult. Jillian doesn't have anyone to whom she feels close, and while she understands the importance of fitting in with the clothing and hair styles of other fifth graders (boring colors, simple hair dos, and strict adherence to an unspoken weekly schedule), she doesn't like it. Still, she is too shy to speak up. Even though she is very bright, she doesn't want to participate in the Mind Bender competition that the school holds as a review replacement for standardized testing. Since Rashida won last year, as a fourth grader, Jillian is sure that she will win again, so it's senseless for her to try. Still, she is trying to speak up more as a way to honor her grandmother's memory. Jillian also wove a lot of items with her grandmother, but hasn't worked on her craft in the last year. When she finally talks to her teacher about participating in the Mind Bender, her teacher is supportive, but lots of things get in the way. She is glad to make friends with Marquez, who sticks up for her and on whom she has a little crush, and the more she gets involved with school, the more she realizes that Rashida is actually rather nice. A bad cold causes her to do poorly in the preliminary round for the Mind Bender, although she makes the cut to go on. When her mother's lupus flares up and Jillian wants to go to the hospital with her, she misses the round before the final one. She's given the opportunity to try to get a retake, but it involves asking a lot of teachers at school if she can have a re-do. Will Jillian be able to channel her grandmother's enthusiasm and outspoken qualities in order to try for something she really wants?
Strengths: My favorite part of this was the coping strategies Jillian uses when she feels out of control in the situation. Biting the back of her tongue in order to be still, using a "neutral face" when things are uncomfortable; these are helpful for just about everyone. It's good to see depictions of children missing grandparents, since that's an unfortunate loss that many students face. I was also glad to see a classroom that was very interested in academics, where the most accomplished student is also the most popular. Young readers will be amused by Jillian's different fashions, and interested in all of the different things she does with her hair. While Jillian is a very anxious character, she is really trying to work in a positive direction, and utilizing solid coping skills. 
Weaknesses: It seems unlikely that a school would be able to opt out of standardized testing, and even more unlikely that Jillian's teacher would make her ask all the other teachers for special permission to re do the Mind Bender qualifying round. Of course, I don't work in an elementary school, but I can't see this happening in middle school. Young readers will not be bothered by this.
What I really think: Just Right Jillian reminds me a lot of Allen's Mya Tibbs, if Mya had an anxiety disorder. Same supportive family, same quirky sense of fashion, and same desire to get things done. This is another good series for elementary schools, like Draper's Sassy, Brown's Lola Levine, and Barrows' Ivy and Bean

 Ms. Yingling

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