You Go First was picked as the Book of the Month for GMGR in February. When Stars are Scattered filled the March choice. As I’m now organising the Book of the Month, I thought I’d better read them. Both were from my library: You Go First was an ‘electronic resource’ from my library, aka ebook, but I had to download or update several Apps before I got a system that worked as they suggested it would. But now I have the right App, I went straight to it to borrow one of April’s.

You Go First

You Go First

by Erin Entrada Kelly

Funny and poignant, You Go First by 2018 Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly is an engaging exploration of family, spelling, art, bullying, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships. Erin Entrada Kelly’s perfectly pitched tween voice will resonate with fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again.

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.

Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone. (less)

My Review

I have mixed feelings about You Go First. In fact, I had very mixed-up feelings throughout this book and was very grateful for a positive outcome for all.

It’s incredibly well written. Ms Kelly brings everyone in this book straight into your heart, whether for good or bad, in case of the thumping bullies. I love the premise of two introverts becoming friends through online communication. ‘How unusual!’ (irony) That should tell you a lot more about what I felt about it!

What I found difficult was the whole idea that these kids were somehow ‘different’. Yes, they’re brainy, and interested in other things from most of their peers. They follow their own plan. Someone might even tell me they are on one of those spectrums we hear so much about – or at least those of us that don’t have school-age kids hear about – others have to deal with the paperwork. The trouble is, I found it so terribly, terribly easy to identify with both of them. A bit more Ben, especially with his bright idea of becoming a student rep, and his campaigning. And then with Charlotte, except I did off-load half my name and insist on the ‘friendlier’ part — and taking a trip to a museum to solve my question would be just my thing…

So what this book did for me was to awaken all sorts of anxieties, probably nearer the surface than they need be after lockdowns and moving put the stress levels up. But I become outraged the way people bully kids and treat them like they’re different. Thank goodness Magda is of the same ilk. She’s a keeper, is Magda.

Book Review | You Go First 'incredibly well written. Ms Kelly brings everyone in this book straight into your heart' #mglit #introvert #brightkids Share on X

PS I have a rock collection, and a Gryffindor scarf, too. Am I on some sort of spectrum?

It’s only a book, Jemima…

When Stars Are Scattered

by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story. (goodreads)

My Review

This is classed as a non-fiction graphic novel. It tells Omar’s story, like a memoir, but as a graphic novel. It’s a very interesting approach.

The illustrations are top-notch, and although I had difficult distinguishing between several of the characters, the overall feel, the immensity of the refugee camp, the passage of time, were all brought through wordlessly.

It’s also a great way of bringing people of all ages into the realities of life in a refugee camp. This one is in Kenya. According to the UN HCR currently around 82.4 million ‘displaced people’ are living in camps worldwide. That’s a third more than the entire population of the UK, and about a third of the population of USA.

And life there is boring.

For some people there is no hope of another life, especially once their dream of going home is shattered. For others, the whole way of life revolves about the possibility of getting on a ‘list’ to get them to America. Nobody knows how to get on the list. But there are ways…

Omar’s story is probably typical. The same mix of kids that you find in your neighbourhood. The kind ones, the proto-bullies, even if they aren’t, yet. The same intolerances… These similarities are all brought out, as is the despair of the parents when dealing with their hungry kids. Fancy one meal of porridge a day? By day ten you’d be looking at less than that, as they give out rations on day fifteen.

There are lots of lessons in here, and plenty for someone like me to think about. I’ve donated to the UNHCR before. Time to make that regular.

And… whether it’s war, or climate change destroying people’s homes, there’ll be many many more people in refugee camps before long. Pray it doesn’t include your family.

MG Book Reviews | You Go First + When Stars Are Scattered. Two thought-provoking books, of friendship, internet relations, and the graphic tale of life in a refugee camp #mglit #bookclub Share on X

MG Book Reviews | You Go First + When Stars Are Scattered

3 thoughts on “MG Book Reviews | You Go First + When Stars Are Scattered

  • 9 April, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Good reviews. I shared some of your issues with the first book. I think I need to get hold of the second, though at the moment I’m not really taking time for reading, writing, or breathing :p

  • 11 April, 2022 at 5:47 am

    Lots of us are trying to find our place in the world and I’m not sure it ever stops for some of us.
    There’s a family from Somalia that I met who survived the camp by drawing on and with anything the aid workers manages to get to them and here’s me able to be surrounded by paper and art materials. I love the idea of the non-fiction graphic novel. It’s important for stories to be told and for others to remember how fortunate they are.
    Great reviews.

  • 14 April, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    Quite intrigued! thank you for sharing 🙂

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