Friday, June 30, 2023

Guy Friday- Food Fight and How to Stay Invisible

Davis, Linda B. Food Fight
June 27, 2023 by Fitzroy Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ben is excited about entering middle school with his friends Nick and Josh, especially since he has gotten on a travel soccer team. However, there are challenges when he enters the Wild West of middle school-- the lunchroom. Josh is usually a well liked kid, but he's determined to put together a "squad" of at least ten kids so that there is some social protection or cool factor attached to them. Ben would fit right in except for one thing; he only eats ten foods, and his lunch every single day is a plain bagel, mini pretzels, and piece of chocolate. When Darren, who is a dirty soccer player and didn't make the team, gives him a hard time about it, Ben tries to laugh it off, but Darren is relentless. It doesn't help that Ben's own father has given him problems for years. It's not that Ben just doesn't like food, he gags if he is even around certain strong smells like coffee. His father makes frequent comments that he needs to "snap out of it", and even tries to get Ben to eat a simple chicken and rice dish for dinner instead of buttered pasta. Ben's mother is more understanding, but very concerned about an upcoming school field trip to the historical Abner Farm. She makes a deal with Ben that if he attends two counseling sessions to try to find ways to cope with his food avoidance, she will try to get his father to back off. Ben finds out that he probably suffers from ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder), but would rather just keep things under wraps instead of letting everyone at school know. The Abner Farm trip looms large. In addition to living in tents, students will be eating historical food like succotash, and there's no way that Ben can eat that. At first, he thinks he just won't go, but then there is Lauren. He has a huge crush on her, but so does Darren. Darren is constantly picking at Ben. When the kids hang out, he notices that Ben doesn't eat pizza. He makes fun of him and Olivia, Ben's lab partner and super smart student who has an unfortunate past. Olivia is kind to Ben, and even helps him take a "supertaster" test. He even causes a brief rift between Ben and Lauren when Ben decides to run for vice president and Lauren runs for president of the sixth grade. Deciding that he can't let Darren and Lauren go to Abner Farm without him, he decides to go, and even leaves the granola bars his mother wants him to take behind. He figures that the flapjacks on the menu are close enough to the pancakes he will eat, and plans to survive on those. It's harder than he thinks, although he manages to help out with meals and avoid most of the foods that trigger him. He manages to get by, and the wise Olivia even brings him a granola bar, but Darren keeps finding ways to bother him. When a bag of candy bars is found in Ben's duffle and he faces being thrown out of camp, he finally admits that he has a severely restrictive diet, thus the food cannot be his. Darren's antics come to light, and Ben's friends are able to be a little more understanding of his condition. 
Strengths: This was an excellent blend of realistic school concerns and a health problem, and contains the absolute finest writing about bullying I have ever seen. Bullying is not necessarily fights and swirlies and wedgies. It's kids picking at each other under their breath, "joking around" with nicknames, and manipulating people around them to also look askance at another student. The lunchroom and science class scenes are perfect, and we all know kids like Olivia who just don't quite understand students around them and don't temper their actions, and get treated poorly as a result even though they are good kids. There are some really excellent scenes, like Lauren oversalting fries to the point that Ben can't eat them, and then offering them to Darren saying "They're terrible. They would be perfect for you." Ben offers Lauren his travel soccer warm up when Darren bumps Ben and spills food on Lauren: there's SO MUCH in that scene! Modern children have a lot of anxiety about overnights with other children even if they don't have identified disorders, so the trip to Abner Farm is a great inclusion, even though I haven't seen an overnight trip (other than the 8th grade D.C. one) in a middle school in 30 years. The framework of this, with standard middle school circumstances that are completely impacted by how Ben is treated about his eating, is quite brilliant. The best part? Ben isn't really bothered by eating just ten things. He is bothered that other people are bothered. Isn't that most of middle school in a nutshell?
Weaknesses: This is only available in paperback. I'm hoping there will be a prebind available after publication, because paperbacks usually only last about three years in a school library, if that! 
What I really think: Having dealt with students who will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate chip granola bars, chocolate milk, and bananas, I know that Ben is an absolutely true to life character. I do sort of wish there had been more about the counselor, as well as some coping strategies (is Ben at least able to take vitamins?), but this is still very well done. I will purchase this in paperback and tape the heck out of it if I have to. 

Rudd, Maggie C. How to Stay Invisible
June 27, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Raymond's parents have never been very reliable, and since moving to River Mill, North Carolina, they haven't improved. He's been in a children's home in the past, and they've certainly left him alone, but this time, they haven't even left him a place to live when they take off. They've turned in the keys to their trailer, so Raymond and his dog Rosie find a hollow tree in the woods behind the school that they live in. With a few changes of clothes and a bar of soap, Raymond tries to keep himself clean as best he can. He gets meals at school, and soon realizes that there is a lot of discarded packaged food in dumpsters that he can get to feed himself and Rosie. School work is a bit of a problem, and his grades do drop a little, but he does his best. He makes a friend in Harlin, whose mother has been in prison and whose father has left him with his grandmother. The two enjoy each other's company, and help each other out; when the two manage to get to a school carnival, Harlin wins tickets to an event, but trades them for a sleeping bag Raymond is eying, which helps make the winter more bearable. When school is out for winter break, survival becomes even harder, and when Rosie is attacked by a coyote and has an infected cut on her leg, Raymond takes her to town to try to find help. Nothing is open, but a kindly older man, Stigs, picks them up and takes them to his cabin, where he fixes Rosie's leg. He was an army surgeon who has had a hard life, and has lost both his wife and his son. He knows that Raymond needs help, and lets him wash up, eat, and sleep in comfort while Rosie is healing. Having survived a rough childhood himself, Stigs doesn't ask questions or make demands, but just offers what help he can. When school resumes and Rosie is better, he lets Raymond go with a bag of supplies and the offer to meet up on Saturdays to fish. The coyote seems sorry, and even brings Raymond a rabbit. Raymond names him Hank, and he watches over the boy and his dog. At school, Raymon develops a nice friendship with Lexi, with whom he is working on a project, and the two enjoy each other's company. Raymond even asks for Stig's help to borrow some of Stig's son's old clothes and get a hair cut so he can go to the school dance. When Raymond is bitten by a snake, however, his attempts to stay invisible fail, and he finally gets the help he needs. 
Strengths: There is something about being twelve that makes surviving on one's own seem really appealing. Frequent readers may remember that my own plan to run away involved living in the woods near my aunt's house, because I knew she kept food in an unlocked garage. My daughter liked to read about chidlren who were mistreated because it made her life seem more reasonable, and I think that's part of the appeal of Raymond's story. His life is awful, but he is resourceful and resilient, and manages to survive decently for a very long time. He takes good care of Rosie, keeps up in school, and learns new ways to take care of himself, like fishing and skinning small animals. Others have mentioned it, but there is a strong My Side of the Mountain feel to this one, although it's easier to be sympathetic to Raymond than to Sam Gribley! I adored Stigs, and felt that his character had good reason to steer clear of social services, even though I wanted them to be called right away. The ending was a bit of a twist, but very realistic and well done. 
Weaknesses: While the teachers are portrayed as helpful and kind, it was a bit surprising that no one tried to contact home. It's a small quibble with an excellent book, and it did make me feel better that a local charity, Neighborhood Bridges, keeps me supplied with toiletries so that my students can get toothpaste, soap, and hairbrushes if they need them. I will now be more attentive to anyone who constantly smells like wood smoke, however!
What I really think: Like Walter's The King of Jam Sandwiches, this was a hard but interesting look at the life of a child who hasn't received the care that he should. I'm definitely purchasing for fans of survival books like Wallace's The Wilder Boys or Hashimoto's The Trail

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