Sunday, September 04, 2022

Dad's Girlfriend and Other Anxieties

Crocker, Kellye. Dad's Girlfriend and Other Anxieties
September 1st 2022 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's been just Ava and her Dad for her whole life; her mother passed away just after she was born. Things have been okay; she has a lot of relatives in her Iowa town,  her father is supportive, and she has a couple of good friends. At the end of 6th grade, though, she was diagnosed with anxiety after an incident at field day when she had a panic attack. She's seeing a therapist and learning coping strategies. When she finds out that her father has planned a vacation in Colorado with his girlfriends Jenn and her daughter Mackenzie. Ava reads too much online, and has decided that Colorado is too dangerous and she doesn't want to visit. The altitute, the mountains, and even the squirrels have her in a panic, and that's on top of the frightening idea of her father having a girlfriend! She makes it through the plane ride, and Jenn seems nice. Even Mackenzie, who wants to go by Z, isn't awful. There are some things that are, however. Ava tries out some of Jenn's hair products in the bathroom and ends up finding positive pregnancy tests, and she finds out that the group isn't staying at Jenn's house  but are traveling to a lodge in the mountains so that Z can visit with her father, the famous fashion photographer Rodrigo. Ava tries everything she can to derail the trip and does manage to cancel the reservation, but they still drive to the resort a day late due to Ava's false assertion that she isn't feeling well. Because the resort is full, they end up in a small, out of the way cabin called "the hermitage" that is pretty primative. This isn't great, but the adults try to make the best of it. Ava goes along with Z when she meets her father, and gets some insight into why Z is worried about meeting him. This doesn't stop Ava from trying to reconnect Rodrigo with Jenn, in the hopes that this will ruin her father's chances. Jenn is really nice to Ava, and does her best to make her comfortable. Ava's father is quite long suffering as well. Z is upset when her father prioritizes his work over her, and is tired of Ava's whining. When the group participates in a Mud Run, Ava's dad offers to team up with Z, since Rodrigo has backed out, and Ava is going to run with Jenn. Rodrigo shows up suddenly but doesn't pay any more attention to Z than he usually does, and Ava has to help Z out even though they are competing against each other. When Jenn isn't doing well but says she is okay, Ava insists that she gets medical care, and Jenn's medical condition is revealed. Will Ava be able to come clean about all of her bad behavior and salvage the new family dynamic that is shaping up?
Strengths: Like Burke's An Occasionally Happy Family, this is a good look at how families sometimes have to realign and welcome new members. The fact that Jenn and Ava's father meet through work even though they live far apart is realistic, and I appreciated that both Jenn and Z are nice people whom Ava genuinely likes, even though she tries to sabotage the trip. Z's problems with her dad will be all too familiar to some middle grade readers, and her anger and acting out are understandable. Coping strategies for anxiety are listed in facsimiles of Ava's journal, along with some of her other lists. Hiking in Colorado was a great vicarious vacation, and the story moved along very quickly. A great first middle grade novel from this author. 
Weaknesses: While it's good to see representation of children with anxiety, Ava's actions are really over the top and harmful to everyone. It's noted a couple of times that she normally doesn't act like this, but trying to disable a car? As a parent, I sort of wanted to ground her forever. Middle grade readers will think her actions are justified. 
What I really think: This is definitely more of a middle school book; if you deal with elementary students and want to explain Jenn's predicament to them, that's your choice! Tween readers will find Ava's adventures in Colorado interesting, be more sympathetic than I was about her fears, and race through the pages as they wonder how the family situation will be resolved. 

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