Friday, April 27, 2018

You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Charlotte’s dad is in the hospital and her “best friend” is ignoring her. Ben’s parents are getting a divorce and he’s being bullied at school. Only a writer with Erin Entrada Kelly’s insights and talent could make middle school anguish feel real, humorous, poignant, and engaging. Kelly’s Hello Universe just won the Newbery Award. It’s outstanding and I loved it, but You Go First tops it. This is a book that will capture thinking preteens, especially those who don’t see their own lives as perfect. It’s also a book that teachers and parents will value because it will help them help the kids they love.

Charlotte and Ben met via an online Scrabble game. She’s twelve, lives near Philadelphia and is lonely especially now that she’s afraid that her dad might die and there’s no one to talk to about it. Ben’s eleven and he lives in a small town in Louisiana. He's lonely and is being physically bullied at school. Just as he’s entering a new school where his interest in presidential history and Harry Potter isn’t appreciated, learning of his parents pending divorce leaves him confused and isolated.  Both Ben and Charlotte are brilliant outsiders trying to survive middle school. They’re also kids who care deeply about words and the way they love learning and using words is both clever and endearing.

Readers quickly become a part of Ben and Charlotte’s burgeoning friendship. With alternating chapters expressing each of their points of view, the reader quickly gets to know and care about them. You Go First celebrates friendship and the new ways kids form friendships online before they even consider actually talking to each other. The book also shows the importance of family, especially for outsider kids.

It’s been awhile since I read a children’s book that kept me up past my bedtime. (I love my sleep.) You Go First is so fast paced that when I finished a short chapter, I’d think – just one more and soon I’d read THE WHOLE THING. Kudos to Harper Collins for offering this excerpt with the first 33 pages of the book. Once you or your favorite nine to twelve-year-old read it, you’ll be hooked and may find yourself begged to download the book immediately.

Summing it Up: You Go First is a delightful charmer filled with humor and compassion. It’s a perfect book for every kid who doesn’t exactly fit in – and that’s probably most of them. Buy this book for caring kids and teachers and parents who love them. Teachers who used Wonder in their classrooms will want to share this one.

A personal note: I had the privilege of introducing Erin Entrada Kelly for her reading at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book last year. Erin told me that her mother lives in a convent in the Philippines and even though Erin isn’t particularly religious, her mother’s influence colors her work in a variety of ways.  I think readers will see that in You Go First through her compassion for her characters and in the way they treat each other.

Rating: 5 stars   
Ages 9 to 12
Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Book Club
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Colby Sharp’s video review:
What Others are Saying:
“Kelly knows her audience well and uses Ben and Charlotte’s alternating points of view to capture moments of tween anguish with searing honesty. ...Heartfelt and hopeful, this novel will encourage young readers to offer their hand in friendship to kids who, just like them, might be struggling.” — School Library Journal (starred review)
“Readers will undoubtedly see themselves in these pages. ...A well-crafted, entertaining call for middle schoolers to find their voices and remain accountable in shaping their own social spheres.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A delicate look at friendship, bullying and coming of age. ...You Go First is a brilliant follow-up to Entrada Kelly’s Newbery winner Hello, Universe, and challenges readers to rethink the rules of friendship.” — Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“The link between the two main characters becomes a subtle bond that enables each one to make it through an emotionally challenging week and come out stronger. Readers drawn by the intriguing jacket art will enjoy the novel’s perceptive dual narrative.” — Booklist
“With character-revealing prose, Kelly holds readers’ attention as the narrative moves back and forth between her two fully realized protagonists and their intricately drawn home and school settings.” — The Horn Book
“Kelly writes with sympathetic gravity of young people who feel lost in a world where they thought they knew the way. ...Readers will be glad to see that both [Charlotte and Ben] will manage to remain themselves and be okay.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

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