Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Ellen Outside the Lines

Sass, A.J. Ellen Outside the Lines
March 22nd 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ellen attends a small private school, and is excited to be going on a school trip to Barcelona, where the students in the Spanish class hope to improve their skills. Her father, Abba, (who is an artist) is going along as a chaperone because Ellen occasionally struggles with certain aspect of her Autism Spectrum condition. Her mother, who is more observant about certain aspects of Judaism than the father is, stays behind at home, although keeps in touch via video chat. Ellen knows that the trip might be challenging, but has processes in place to deal with the changes the trip will bring. Her best friend, Laurel, is going on the trip as well, but the two are feeling a bit uneasy about their friendship. When they are not assigned to the same group, Laurel asks Ellen to get her father to switch her out, but since Ellen likes the group she is in, she lies to Laurel and tells her that Abba said he couldn't do it. New to the group is Isa, who is nonbinary, but assigned to the girls' rooms. Since Ellen only has crushes on girls, and group member Andy comes out as being gay during the trip, there are many interesting conversations on pronouns, identification, and how to be respecful when dealing with people who might have difference experiences. Ellen's group struggles with the clues for the scavenger hunt around the city that drives the itineraries for the week, especially when Ellen gets overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of an unfamiliar city. Ellen is also a bit confused about how her father can eat food that isn't kosher, when that has always been something that her family has cared about. The father also admits that he may have more in common with Andy and Ellen than they might have thought. There are many challenges on the school trip, but Ellen manages to navigate them without losing any friends or getting into too much trouble. 
Strengths: The best part about this was how Ellen's Jewish identity was woven into the story; it wasn't the main aspect of the book, but was mentioned frequently. I especially liked the fact that the father wasn't super religious but went along with the religious strictures for Ellen and her mother's sakes. The Barcelona setting is interesting, and there is a lot of LGBTQIA+ representation. Isa especially imparts helpful information on how to treat individuals, and Ellen (who struggles with some interpersonal interactions because of her Austism) learns a lot, especially when she outs Andy without thinking. Ellen doesn't think her own sexuality is anything out of the ordinary; she has a small crush on a girl from Barcelona, but that's about all that happens. She feels like Laurel might be made uncomfortable by this, but that turns out not to be the case. This is a solid travel story with surprising amount of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 
Weaknesses: The students seemed to have a lot of freedoms during the school trip, and that didn't seem realistic to me. Every school trip I've ever been on has activities planned from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. so that students are too tired to get into trouble! Perhaps smaller private schools run trips differently; I had the same concerns about Dee's Everything I Know About You
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who liked books such as Cervantes' Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, Baskins' Anything But Typical, Gino's Melissa, Gephart's Lily and Dunkin, or Bunker's Zenobia July

Lukoff, Kyle. Different Kinds of Fruit 
April 12th 2022 by Penguin Random House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Definitely keep an eye out for this title as well. It seemed a bit young for my library, but had lots of good information. 

From the publisher:
In this funny and hugely heartfelt novel from a Stonewall Award winner, an sixth-grader’s life is turned upside down when she learns her dad is trans.

Annabelle Blake fully expects this school year to be the same as every other: same teachers, same classmates, same, same, same. So she’s elated to discover there’s a new kid in town. To Annabelle, Bailey is a breath of fresh air. She loves hearing about their life in Seattle, meeting their loquacious (and kinda corny) parents, and hanging out at their massive house. And it doesn’t hurt that Bailey has a cute smile, nice hands (how can someone even have nice hands?) and smells really good.

Suddenly sixth grade is anything but the same. And when her irascible father shares that he and Bailey have something big–and surprising–in common, Annabelle begins to see herself, and her family, in a whole new light. At the same time she starts to realize that her community, which she always thought of as home, might not be as welcoming as she had thought. Together Annabelle, Bailey, and their families discover how these categories that seem to mean so much—boy, girl, gay, straight, fruit, vegetable—aren’t so clear-cut after all.

Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. I can only imagine how comforting it could be for a tween to find these books and how some libraries will be afraid to buy them!

    I agree about lack of freedom on school trips. I remember getting in big trouble for such minor offenses as leaving the group to go visit the Impressionist section at a museum once! And two kids from a trip my nephew is on in Costa Rica just got sent home in disgrace (we assume for drinking) which I guess is what sometimes happens when there is lack of supervision.