Title: The List of Things That Will Not Change
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Random House 2020
The Plot: Ten year old Bea’s parents have recently divorced amicably and are now living in separate residences. Her father has come out as gay and will soon be marrying his boyfriend Jesse. While adjusting to these changes, Bea mostly has positive feelings about the upcoming marriage and is especially excited about meeting Jesse’s daughter Sonia who is also 10. As Bea adapts to the changing relationships in her life, she makes several decisions that create discord among her family.
My Take: I found this book to be a strong middle grade realistic fiction read because Rebecca Stead captures the mix of feelings that many children of divorce experience. Instead of having Bea wallowing in hurt and grief over her parents split, Stead chooses the more interesting approach of allowing her to experience joy and excitement over the new lives that her parents are building. I also appreciated how Bea’s character changes in the reader’s mind over the arc of the story. We learn things about how her that make her more interesting. Stead should also be given credit for adeptly handling the issue of a gay parent without making it feel forced or contrived. The author nests the topic of gay marriage within the wider scope of the family and builds the book on believable characters. This credible presentation of a contemporary mixed family prevents “The List of Things That Will Not Change” from becoming simply an ‘issues’ book.
One Interesting Thing About The Author: According to her website, Rebecca Stead’s parents, much like Bea’s, were divorced when she was growing up and had separate residences. No doubt Stead drew on these experiences when writing this book.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Harriet is an 11 year old who spends her days eavesdropping on others and filling her notebook up with honest observations. When her notebook falls into the wrong hands, Harriet finds her life thrown into turmoil as her schoolmates digest all that she has written about them.
My Take: This book clearly earns its place as an enduring classic in juvenile literature. Having never read it before, I thought from its title that it would be about a girl solving small mysteries in her neighborhood and saving the day. What I discovered instead was a more complicated book about a girl with a compulsive writing habit, grieving over the absence of a caregiver, and learning to navigate the power struggles of 6th grade. I loved the characters in the book because, like real people, they are frequently less than pleasant. I laughed, for example, when Harriet was eating dinner with her parents and, stewing over their recent idea to give her dance lessons, she screams, “I’ll be damned if I’ll go to dancing school!” At another point, her former nurse writes to her and includes the line “If you’re missing me, I want you to know that I’m not missing you.” Such hard bitten interactions between the characters really kept my attention and made Harriet’s world come to life.
I also appreciate how Fitzhugh made the stakes very high for Harriet. Losing her notebook and becoming an outcast at school are frontal assaults on Harriet’s life and mind. And she does not go down easily in this fight. Apologies are long in coming from her and for a few days she is physically abusive to her peers. This struggle really pulled me along through the story.
I look forward to reading more about the history of this beloved book and recommending it to many readers.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According this article, while Fitzhugh was working on Harriet the Spy, she was also working on a novel about a teenage girl who fall in love with another girl. It never saw publication, but if it had, it would have been one of the earliest gay novel for teens.
The Plot: Olympia is a twelve year old growing up in early 1980’s in SoHo. Her father, an art restorer, has run off to France with another woman. In response, Olympia’s mother, a sculptor, has not been out of bed in days. Olympia fills up her summer days hanging out with friends and her dad’s friendly art assistant Apollo. Over time she finds the courage to reach out for help and to begin to piece her family back together.
My Take: This book lacked enough narrative momentum for my taste. I thought that a good deal of it could be trimmed to focus on the disappearance of her father and Olympia’s efforts to help her mother. Her relationships with her friends, their parents, and Apollo takes up most of the book and was a bit of a slog for me. A side trip to an island near the culmination of the story seemed exceptionally unnecessary.
One Interesting Note About The Author: “All the Greys On Greene Street” is Laura Tucker’s first novel.
Although I try to focus on recent Children’s and YA literature, I do slip the occasional classic into my reading mix. I self consciously admit that there are many classics that I have not opened. I wish that I was one of those Children’s Librarians who can truthfully claim that they have powered through all of the books of OZ and spent time with Anne of Green Gables, but I am not one of them. I hope to be one day though!
Concerning From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, this book grew on me. I confess that I was halfway through and wondering why it won a Newberry and why it continued to remain popular, but by the end, Konigsburg had won me over.
The plot involves two children, Claudia and Jaimie Kincaid, who run away from home and spend a week in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. They bathe in the museum fountain, eat at the snackbar and sleep in a 15th century bed at night. After a couple of days of tagging along with school groups, they become captivated by the museum’s recent addition of a small angel sculpture that could possibly have been carved by Michelangelo. Claudia becomes intent on returning home only after they solve the mystery of whether it truly was sculpted by the Renaissance master.
I enjoyed the sense of low key adventure as the children runaway and hide in the MOMA. Who hasn’t ever wondered what happens in museums or other public places when the crowds leave? I also appreciated the children’s powerful curiosity as they become determined to learn everything that they can about the Italian Renaissance. Claudia and Jamie remind us that we do not have to travel far to find excitement and wonder.