Sunday, February 27, 2022

Dear Student

Schwartz, Elly. Dear Student
February 15th 2022 by Delacorte
E ARC provided by

Autumn is having a tough go of it. Her father has decided to pursue his dreams and join the Peace Corps, so he is in Guatemala. Her best friend, Prisha has moved away from Cape Cod. Since the family doesn't have the income from her father's accounting job, the mother has moved Autumn and her sister Pickle to an apartment over her veterinary practice, Hillview Vet. It doesn't help that while walking to school on the first day, Autumn sees a boy run over an iguana in the street with his bike. The two take the animal to her mother, who says it will probably be okay, but the boy says he has to leave. Autumn figures he is a summer tourist, and is a bit sad, because he was not as diffictult to talk to as other people. When Autumn finally makes it to school, she finds that the boy, Cooper, is actually in her class. She is also approached by the bubbly new student, Logan, who is dogged in her determination to befriend Autumn, even inviting her to her house after Logan takes her ball python to Hillview Vet. Autumn is glad to have a friend, but uncomfortable with many of Logan's ideas. Logan has also befriended a popular crowd, and wants Autumn to eat lunch with them, but Autumn ends up eating in a science classroom with Cooper, whose father is also not in the picture. When her teacher announces that he will be picking a 6th grade to be the new voice of the secret "Dear Student" column, Autumn wants to apply... but so does Logan. Autumn doesn't quite believe it when she is picked, but starts to write the columns with a good attitude, happy that she can report to her father that she did something brave and joined one thing, as he asked. Of course, Logan also wants to go to dances, wear matching shirts, and picket a new local business that tests cosmetics on animals. As "Dear Student", Autumn encourages a protest, and finds herself dragged into the planning of this, which angers Cooper, whose mother works at the company and is dependent on the job. Logan doesn't care for Cooper, and Autumn is torn between the two friends. Her anxieties prove valid as she struggles to deal with all of these issues while trying to step up to take care of Pickle. 
Strengths: Today's students have a lot to deal with, and it's good to see depictions of families who are struggling with income, housing, and parenting arrangements. Many of my students care for younger siblings. The world has not been all suburban ranches with fathers who go to the office and mothers who are at home for a very long time. Being right above the veterinary practice, and in a community with a changing seasonal population was an interesting setting. Logan was a particularly fascinating character-- a new kid who ISN'T struggling to make friends and who is dealing with a powerful mother who works long hours. The friendship dynamic was absolutely tru to life-- Autumn really wants a friend, even though she doesn't always agree with Logan's plans! The social activism was also pretty typical-- Logan doesn't really investigate the company, but it's good that the students can affect positive change and still have Cooper's mother keep her job! Autumn's struggles with the newspaper column also highlight a typical middle grade mindset; things can be great in theory, but a lot harder in real life. 
Weaknesses: I've never been at a middle school that had a newspaper, but this is certainly a popular topic for fiction. Even Beany Malone wanted to be a reporter! I was also personally VERY angry at the father. Children are at home for such a brief percentage of your life (if you're lucky and live a long time), so the fact that he is willing to sacrifice some of those years seemed odd. I could definitely understand why Autumn was upset. This is also an example of a book where the main character could have been in 8th grade, which would have extended the readership audience a bit. 
What I really think: This is a title that will be popular with readers of Scrivan's Nat Enough, Libenson's Invisible Emmie, Keller's The Science of Breakable Things, and Gerber's Taking Up Space. It was very similar to Bryant's very recent Abby, Ready or Not, to the point where I kept thinking that Autumn had a younger brother rather than Pickle!
 Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. Our middle school has a school newspaper that is run as a class (F.A. Day Middle School in Newton). It's the only middle school of our four middle schools that has its own newspaper.