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Book Profile: For the Young Ones

December 20, 2023


Black-and-white photograph of book.

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers by Caela Carter

I was introduced to this book by an eleven-year-old boy I am tutoring in English, as this is required reading for a book club at school. I was inclined to read this novel as well so we could have a comprehensive discussion about it—I didn’t actually anticipate to like it. This novel follows Gwendolyn rogers and her struggles with undiagnosed ADHD/sensory processing issues that majorly affect her relationships with her peers, particularly her teachers, and especially her familial relationship with her mother, who is understandably ignorant to the symptoms and doesn’t know how to handle them: she is portrayed as angry, dismissive, and often prompting rewards in exchange for “good behavior” mostly for her own advantage. Gwendolyn’s half-brother was recently diagnosed with ADHD, experiencing all the symptoms that Gwen was; however, she remained undiagnosed in a fit of medical bias, as most women typically are. Representation is an amazing attribute of this novel: it includes age-appropriate yet in-depth conversation and introductions to mental health disorders, includes a recently realized non-binary character and portrays Gwendolyn’s unmoving support despite her friends’ hesitation, and ultimately contributes to the themes of belonging, identity, unconventional though fulfilling family dynamics, and accepting each other’s differences. Often as older adolescents or adults we dismiss middle grade novels for their seeming smallness in comparison to ourselves and the stage of life we’re currently experiencing; however, the lessons middle grade novels teach children are often the lessons that adults need to relearn in order to recapture themselves. Never rule them out—or particularly, never rule this novel out.

Black-and-white photograph of book.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden


Again, I had become aware of this novel through tutoring a young boy in English, and this was required reading for him in his school’s book club—and again, I didn’t actually anticipate to like it. This novel follows Zoey, a seventh-grade girl who struggles with an unconventional, unhealthy, and heavily abusive family dynamic, which is largely influenced by poverty. Rather than being appreciated and framed as a child, Zoey essentially becomes the third parent to her three younger siblings and the mediator between parental arguments and attempting to retain her siblings’ childhoods and adolescent ignorance. Above that, this novel also introduces an array of diverse topics that I am very glad middle grade readers are being introduced to early on: topics of debate surrounding gun violence/gun control following a school shooter drill, wrongful police brutality against African Americans in debate club, and domestic violence and subsequent psychological terrorism. Ultimately, this novel is an extremely well-executed amalgamation of validation for those struggling with their appearance because of poverty, their social class, their familial relationships, not being able to speak up, and finally being able to recognize an abusive living situation and introduce an avenue to those willing to escape it. Present are also the concepts of LGBTQIA+ representation, acceptance, and hardship, making this novel the ultimate guide to the open mind and realized life.

Black-and-white photograph of book.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This book was first introduced years ago, but I never got around to reading it until my brother recommended it—and coming from him, that’s extremely high praise. I lent a moment back in October 2021 and fell hopelessly in love with it: the characters, the storyline, the themes, the ending. Comprehensively, the novel is an illustration of self-acceptance and self-discovery through the eyes of a child with facial differences from his peers. The book is told from several different perspectives and each more enlightening than the last. This novel is all-encompassing and a full circle in every aspect of quiet transformation, the fullness of self-acceptance and redemption being unmatched. I would recommend profusely to any and all age groups, but especially children and young adults requiring a fundamental understanding of goodness and diversity.



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