Friday, June 02, 2023

Will on the Inside

Eliopulous, Andrew. Will on the Inside
June 6, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will loves playing soccer, and enjoys the kids on his Oakwood, Georgia school team, like his friend Henry. Lately, however, he's been flat-on-his-face exhausted after game, and his stomach is always upset. His parents take him for a colonoscopy, and the doctor strongly suspects Crohn's Disease. He puts Will on corticosteroids and advises changes in his diet, but also says it's a good idea for Will to stop playing soccer altogether. He's not happy about the idea, but his stomach upsets involve protracted bathroom visits that are hard to  manage when he is on the field. He is also attending a Weekend Warriors confirmation type class at his Baptist church, which is run by Mr. Dyson. Several of his classmates go there, and start asking questions. Classmate Griffin has asked Will's friend Henry to the school dance, and while Henry was thinking of asking Julie, he agrees to go at first. While Griffin is usually accepted, there was one soccer player and student, Francis, who wore rainbow socks and had come out as gay, but ended up transferring to a private school after being bullied. Will thinks that Griffin is really fun, and wants to be friends with him. The two bond over the Mirror Realms video game, and start hanging out together. Is it a crush? Will's not sure, but when people in the Weekend Warriors class start asking Mr. Dyson questions about their churches stance on gay people, Will starts to wonder if he is suffering from Crohn's because God is unhappy with Will's feelings. Is even hanging around with someone ewho is a "wrong thinker" going against his religion? He doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on these thought, since getting his disease under control. The steroids are making him break out, causing his face to be red, and giving him mood swings. Middle school is hard enough. How will Will deal with these additional changes?
Strengths: Will is an engaging character who is dealing with a lot. So many of my students are heavily invested in sports, so to see that taken away from a character creates immediate empathy. I love that his teammates still want him to ride on the bus, wear his jersey, etc., but my heart broke for Will when his disease wouldn't even let him do that. The confirmation class was well depicted, and Mr. Dyson carefully walks the line between adhering to the letter of the law in religion and adhering to the spirit of its tenets of kindess and compassion. Will's thoughts about religion are also in line with how  middle school students think. Will's feelings towards Griffin are complicated and a bit amorphous; at the end, he ruminates as to how he identifies very briefly. Is he pan? Bi? Gay? While students in middle school certinaly are thinking about this, it is a process that they haven't necessarily completed, so I loved this light touch. The family, even the older sister, is warm and supportive. I enjoyed this one on many levels. 
Weaknesses: I would have liked more details about how Griffin's diet was restricted. There is just enough information about the effects of Crohn's on Will's stomach; we get the idea without it being gross, but I am not familiar with the disease, so a bit more about the diet and ways to cope would have been instructive and interesting. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, but if this goes to paperback, there should be a soccer ball somewhere on the cover. The cover is gorgeous, but putting sports front and center always leads to more circulation!

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