Monday, February 26, 2024

MMGM- Social Media

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

It looks like books about social media are finally here. We'll see more. In ten years, these will seem pretty dated, although Instagram has held on strong for a dozen years or so. 

These books made me realize that while having thousands of followers on Twitter would be cool, I... don't really care. I hate going on social media, I take horrible pictures, and I don't really understand how to get more views. Never making videos, which seems to be the hot new thing. 

Instead of spending hours on various apps, I spend hours actually reading. I don't need the world to tell me I'm an expert at middle grade literature. I am. If you want a book review every single day, I'm here. 

Parks, Amy Noelle. Averil Offline 
February 13, 2024 by Nancy Paulsen Book
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Averil and her sister Delia cope with their parents' overprotective habits in very different ways. While Delia (who is in high school) often ignores their requests and fights with them, Averil just wants it to be quiet and conflict free in her world, so she just puts up with it. Both girls were born very prematurely, and almost died, so Averil understands her mother's actions even as they irritate her. The worst offender is the Ruby Slippers app which tracks everything Averil does with her phone and reports it to her mother. If she takes to long to walk home from school, or if she doesn't answer her mother's text soon enough, her mother panics, and sometimes an alarm goes off! Both Averil and her best friend Priya are interested in coding, and Averil loves when the coding of a program is nice and clean and works properly. The two are in a coding class with few girls, and a teacher who seems enamored of the speed of a Steve Jobs wannabe even when Averil's coding is much better. When new student and Rich kid Max approaches her in class and wants to meet after school for ice cream to talk about changes that the company is going to make to Ruby Slippers, Averil gives Priya her phone so she can have a moment to herself. Max, whose father is a tech entrepreneur, outlines the strategies of Rider Woolyback, the creator of the app, which has been sold to a larger company. Although reclusive, he had at one point issued a statement saying that if the app hurt children, he would work to change it. Since his office is in a secret location at nearby Clarion College, Max has a plan. He and Averil, along with Priya, are supposed to go to a coding camp over spring break. He wants Averil to not go, but to spend three days hanging around the campus, trying to talk to Woolyback, who makes people jump through hoops like chess games and puzzles before meeting. Averil doesn't want to rock the boat and says no... until she catches her mother reading a notebook she promised NOT to read. Before she knows it, Max's parents are asking her parents around to dinner at their posh house, and Max's driver is dropping them off on the Clarion campus to get the bus to camp. Max has called the camp about their absences, provided proper documentation of strep through, and Priya and Max's friend have the runaway duo's phones so their parents think they are at camp. Priya is even prepared to answer texts and send photos of "Averil's" healthy meals! Running away is a little rocky, but the two do really well, finding a place to sleep in the college library and even brushing their teeth! Averila even makes sure to get vegetables and fruit at all their meals. They find Woolyback's office, but have to answer a question about the most expensive hyphen mistake... without their phones! Their research skills rule, and they are granted admission. Talking to Woolyback's assistant, Loriel Cady Krowb, the only help they get is that she will forward the message. But what's really going on? There's a bigger mystery behing the Ruby Slipper app, and the two are determined to find it, even after running into Delia. How will Averil and Max find a way to get the freedom to make their own mistakes?
Strengths: Kids doing things! Not only that, but kids doing things that they are not supposed to do! For good reasons! Oh, this ticked all the boxes. Didn't we all have moments in middle school when we were irritated with our parents and wanted to run away from home? I was going to live in the woods near my aunt's house and get food from the fridge in her garage if I needed to! Max has made excellent plans, and asks Averil because he admires her ability and intelligence. Do the two have a tiny crush on each other? Perhaps, but it's based on mutual respect and confined to actions like holding on to the other's hair ribbon or hoodie, so very much like the great relationship in Heldring's The Football Girl. I'm not a fan of puzzles, but even I was intrigued by the questions, as well as how they solved several of the problems. There's a good mix between the nitty gritty of running away and the philosophical focus on women in computer fields. Plus, this was just FUN! I especially liked how Delia and Averil ended up getting their parents to see their point of view. For kids to be okay with giving up their phones and being grounded until the parents quit relying on the Ruby Slippers app, and to not fight or argue but to be steadfast in their determination was brilliant. There was so much to love about this title by the author of The Summer of Brave.
Weaknesses: I loved the Anne of Green Gables and The Wizard of Oz references (I mean, why didn't I name my daughters Averil and Cordelia?), but I'm not sure middle grade readers will understand them. As much as a cultural fixture as The Wizard of Oz was for generations, thanks to the annual airing of the movie, my students don't seem to be familiar with it. Small quibble in a fantastic story. 
What I really think: We are starting to see more middle grade novels involving technology, and it's time. Might the be dated in ten years when we all have cell phones imbedded in our brains? Possibly. This is my new book crush, and I'm buying at least two copies. I'm thinking of buying a third so I can encourage the teachers to read this one as well. Very much enjoyed this; most of the books I've been reading have been rather sloggy with Deep Messages, so this was a delight.

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. Emily Posts
February 6, 2024 by Tundra Books
Copy provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's always just been Emily and her mother, who is an events planner at a boutique hotel. When her mother decides to move in with her boyfriend Richard, whom she is planning on marrying, Emily's calm life is disrupted by the change. Richard's eight year old son, Ocean, is particularly irritating, since he is loud and often breaks things. Emily is determined to be a social media influencer, and is very irritated that her mother won't let her post her picture on her YouHappy account. She's sure this is why she only has thirty followers, which is going to make it hard to monetize and get product placement agreements. She idolizes Asha Jamil, an actress who played an astronaut on a television show and posts frequently on the app about her lifestyle and environmental issues. Emily and her friend Simone, who wants to be a sustainable fashion designer when she grows up, are in charge of the school podcast, which is supervised by librarian Mr. Chadwick. The two hope to translate the skills they learn doing that into big social media accounts, but are struggling with the strictures the school puts in place. Principal Mr. Lau nixes a podcast they have put together that encourages students to attend a climate march, feeling that it's dangerous for middle school students to leave school in the middle of the day. Further complicating matters is new student, Amalie, who is pretty, claims to be a vegan, and really turns Simone's head. After Emily gets in trouble for publishing her climate march podcast without permission because she felt it was the right thing to do, Simone and Amalie are not only put in charge of the podcast, but are given the opportunity to interview Asha Jamil when she comes to town. Emily is stuck without her phone after her mother finds out that she posted pictures of herself, and she gets stuck babysitting Ocean, who blackmails her with an audio recording of her struggling with the family bidet. Emily finds out that Mr. Lau has changed the date of Jamil's visit to coincide with the climate march, so that students don't want to leave school, but Emily uncovers an even darker agenda with new corporate sponsors CA Energy and CoastFresh foods, who are talking about funding a new auditorium for the school, as well as other perks. Will Asha Jamil support CA Energy? Is Mr. Lau doing something shady? And, above all, what would Emily Post say about all of the manners of the modern day? 
Strengths: Yep. Most of the 6th graders want to grow up to be social media influencers without having any idea of how much work goes into it. There are plenty of good details about what one needs to do, and to Emily's credit, she has done her research and is really trying to "build her brand". I also REALLY appreciated the fact that she only jumps from 30 followers to 50; After almost twenty years, I still only have about 300 followers of this blog! The blended family dynamics add a lot to this story; I love that Richard cooks, but has poor taste in artwork, and that Emily doesn't really mind him. The friend drama is spot on. Even though Amalie is perfectly nice, I kind of wanted to slap her. While this might one day be as dated as Pfeffer's Rewind to Yesterday (1988), tweens really need to see how social media influences others who are their age in order to understand how they use it themselves. 
Weaknesses: While I found the inclusion of the historical Emily Post fascinating, modern readers will not know who she is. I would have swapped out Ocean and his bratty antics (which were realistic, but stressful to read about) for more concrete tips on how to behave in public. My students certainly would benefit from some of them! The inclusion of the mother and Richard sexting was a bit...odd. It was handled really well, but who in their right mind would ever do anything that questionable on a device?
What I really think: Add this to a growing list of social media related novels like Sax's Picture Day (2023) Hart's Marcus Makes it Big (2022), It Happened on Saturday (2023) and  Feldman's Eza Exposed (2023) for all of the students who KNOW they are going to be the Next Big Thing. 

Yang, Kelly. Finally Heard 
February 27, 2024 by Simon & Schuster BYR
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Now that Lina has settled in to her new life in the US (depicted in Finally Seen), she is concerned about helping her mother grow her bath bomb business by starting a social media presence. After contacting an influencer who wants to charge $5,000 to pitch her bath bombs, Lina's mother reluctantly agrees that Lina and her younger sister Millie can help with the videos, even though she has reservations about children on social media. Lina has her own issues; she's feeling uncomfortable about her changing body, and tends to hide in baggy sweatshirts. She wishes that she were comfortable in front of a camera like her archnemesis, Jessica, whose mother sells the steam from cooked brocolli as expensive "brocolli water". When the first video for the bath bomb video results in a lot of business, her mother takes a lot of time to consistently post content, even though it means staging the videos in IKEA because the family apartment is too small! Lina is relieved that things are going well, and thrilled when her mother gives her her old phone. She downloads all the apps she can except for Discord, because she's run out of memory. While her teacher, Mrs. Carter, talks about how social media affects students' brains, Lina still gets sucked into caring too much about what life looks like online. She even coats her face in glitter glue after seeing posts about "glazed doughnut skin". She and Carla and Finn are helping other small businesses in the neighborhood with their social media, and getting paid for it, but not everything is positive. Finn is struggling with his parents' divorce, and saying mean things on Discord because "it's not real, it's like a video game", and Carla is chatting with a boy whose father also isn't in the picture... but who isn't exactly who he claims to be. When everything blows up right around the time the school has an informational session about the dangers of social media, will Lina be able to find a way to use social media more rationally?
Strengths: Many of the incidents in this book are based on bad social media interactions Yang's own children had, and there are even notes at the back of the book on some of the things children should keep in mind when consuming social media. I'm sure this is very realistically done, but I'm not as current on social media as I should be (Discord is a real app, by the way). I did like that Lina was able to talk to her grandmother in China, and that she had generally good relationships with Carla and Finn. Younger readers will love their success on social media, and be amused by all of the trends. The information about how social media affects the brains is important. 
Weaknesses: I know that Yang wanted to include a lot of different problems that children face in this book, but there was a lot of information, and the story could have been more focused. As she points out through Mrs. Carter, social media is making it harder for children to concentrate, so some of my students will find 352 pages a bit long. 
What I really think: My students enjoyed Front Desk because it was fun, and also had deeper content. As adults, we like to read books that are entertaining, but want books for kids to have Important Life Lessons. Lina's discomfort over her changing body is certainly something that many children feel, but in combination with the social media concerns, the story does come closer to being didactic than I expected. It's a tough balance. I will purchase this, since my students have been eagerly awaiting this sequel, but I didn't enjoy the book the way I enjoyed Park's Averil Offline


  1. I'm with you 100% with your views on social media. I can barely find the time to keep a blog active much less having to deal with the constant chatter you get on Twitter. Keep on reading for sure and you captured my interest with your thoughts on Averil Offline.

  2. I have no idea how you can read as much as you do or write as much as you do! I am in awe. Thanks for telling me about these three books. I'll try to check them out.

  3. I was't expecting three social media reviews today, but I really enjoyed reading them. The first book sounds the most fun though, thanks for sharing!

  4. Oooh - what delicious choices for a review. I love seeing how tech is portrayed in fiction - years from now archaeologists will struggle to understand the thrall these tiny machines cast on entire populations...