I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review. Wow! I absolutely loved this book. I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. When I read the description of this title on GoodReads, I thought it was going to be a bit of a downer. But, I was swept up into the story very quickly and found myself unable to put it down as I came to care about the characters and really wanted to see what was going to happen. At one point, I found myself grumbling because the phone rang a couple of times while I was reading and I didn't want to tear myself away to answer the call!
Anna Collette is starting eighth grade with a lot of problems. Her best friend, Danielle Loomis, has friend-dumped her to hang out with the popular crowd. She has to stay at her dad's house with his young, new wife, Marnie, and their baby daughter, Jane after her mother attempted suicide with an overdose of Advil. Jane screams all through the night making it impossible for Anna to get any sleep. With school, homework, her family's problems, and friend-drama, Anna is at the end of her rope.
I think that the author, Natasha Friend, has done an outstanding job writing characters who are very real. We are seeing this story from Anna's point of view and the thoughts, words, and actions of this character ring true for a thirteen-year-old in stressful and infuriating circumstances. Her interactions with her parents, her teachers, and her peers are dripping with anger, sarcasm, and humor.
But Friend also develops these characters so well. As Anna grapples with her mother's mental health issues, she begins to learn how to let others help her and how to help herself. She starts building relationships aside from her mother and soon develops a support system that helps her bring balance to her life. I love that the development isn't so sudden as to be unbelievable. Anna has her ups and downs. She'll attend a party and come out of her shell a bit. But then she'll still have anger issues that she'll have to work out. Just as in real life, things don't get better all at once.
So as the story goes along, the reader experiences Anna's sad circumstances. But then we also get to experience fun times as she makes a new set of friends and lets herself start to try new things. For example, Anna agrees to participate in the school's talent show with her friends. The girls name their singing group "Gobsmacked" and decide to do a mash-up. Each girl picks a song and they mix them together: "That's how we ended up with songs by Joan Jett, Sara Bareilles, and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - a random combination if ever there was one." The scenes are so well written, that I can picture myself in the basement rehearsing with them, singing loudly and laughing into microphones.
I think this book will be very popular with middle school students. Parents and teachers should be aware that while the book is very appropriate for middle grade readers, there is some mature content. In the second chapter, Anna overhears her parents enjoying an intimate moment in their bedroom:
"I am in bed when I hear something. A soft moaning. The baby, I think. No. It's not that. The wind? It's not that either. The sound gets louder and louder and I know, suddenly, what it is. Marnie and my father, doing what couples do in the dark. I know because when Dani and I were friends we used to watch this movie her parents kept hidden in their room, "9 1/2 Weeks". It tells you everything you need to know about sex, even if you are not old enough to know it."
Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: March 8th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)