Thursday, January 12, 2023

What Happened to Rachel Riley

Swinarski,Claire. What Happened to Rachel Riley?
January 10th 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Anna moves from Chicago to Wisconsin so that her mother can teach law at a university, she hopes that the transition to a new middle school won't be too hard. Her older sister, Nik, throws herself into the new environment, joining a coding club in high school and getting involved in school work, but the only thing really speaking to Anna is her current events class. She loves podcasts, and is hoping to apply to a summer podcast program, so when her teacher assigns an "un-essay" about a topic of the students' choosing, Anna is excited. She's noticed that one fellow student, Rachel Riley, often sits alone, although there are pictures in school showcases and on social media showing her looking to be very popular. Anna decides to do her project on Rachel's apparent fall from grace, but her teacher won't allow it, even after Anna's mother throws around some lawyer language in an e mail. Anna starts investigating, but no one will talk to her. Riley, who seems very nice, answers a few questions, but tells Anna that if she really wants to know what happened, she'll have to find out herself. There are some issues that crop up in school while Anna is on the trail that tell her a good deal about the culture of the school and what might have gone on, but people remain tight lipped. Is what happened to Rachel something that happened to lots of other girls as well? Told in interviews, e mails, and straight text this novel takes a deep dive into problematic school culture. 
Strengths: This was a great take on moving to a new school, and didn't involve haunted houses or trauma at fitting in. All of the girls in the book were really nice and went out of their way to make Anna feel welcome, even though they weren't thrilled with her investigative efforts. The boys were realistically jerky, and while I don't want to spoil too much of the mystery, there was a satisfying conclusion where people learned how to treat others. Like this author's The Kate In-Between, it takes a good, hard look at how social media shapes students' lives. 
Weaknesses: The e mails and shifts of view point made this a little harder to follow, but I can see why Swinarski wanted to show multiple perspectives. 
What I really think: Like books about dress code, this doesn't seem to be very applicable to my students. If a student came to me about harrassment, I would follow through to the highest levels. I know many people would argue that there is sexual harrassment everywhere, and that it's probably going on with my students as well, but it just seemed like if boys were snapping bras or grabbing girls in the hallway, our teachers would do something. Makes for a better story if they don't. Hand this to readers who enjoyed Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You, Carter's How to Be a Girl in the World, Messner's Chirp, or Mathieu's Moxie.

1 comment:

  1. I've moved to a rural area and so many good books like this one sounds to be are not available in my library. Sigh.