Monday, August 21, 2017

Daily Booktalk/ Review/ Guest Post for Middle Grade Monday! Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari

I am changing things up a bit on today's Middle Grade Monday to post a kind of three-in-one blog post. My Daily Booktalks are sort of mini-reviews of books I've either recently read or some older favorites. Here, I am sharing a longer review of Things That Surprise You, a fun middle grade book I received from Blue Slip Media. It releases tomorrow so, happy book birthday!

When I received an email from Barbara from Blue Slip asking if I'd be interested in hosting a guest post by the author, Jennifer Maschari, I thought it would be fun. Jennifer is also hosting a giveaway. Look for the link after the essay!

Jennifer's Guest Post: 
Finding a Friend in Middle Grade Books

We first met in Sunday School in kindergarten. We rode on the same bus. Even better, we lived just five minutes away from each other, though a busy road in between us meant we couldn’t ride our bikes to each other’s houses. 

We formed a sticker club (I still have my prized sticker book) in third grade. When we got a little older, we spent summer Saturdays riding the coasters and eating LaRosa’s pizza at Kings Island. We were partners in our middle school science lab and together, dissected an owl pellet. 

Teresa was my very best grade school friend. 

Teresa, my best grade school friend, and me, on our 8th grade trip to Washington, DC.

Whether it’s one true friend or several, having someone you can count on through the ups and downs, the big and small changes of middle school is special and important. I write a lot about friendship: great friendships, evolving friendships, new friendships. In my most recent middle grade novel, Things That Surprise You, the main character, Emily Murphy, and her best friend Hazel start to grow apart. This is so confusing for Emily. Can’t they go on as they always have – ordering their favorite pizza from the Slice and dressing up as the characters from a book series they both love? 

Emily’s language arts teacher, Ms. Arnold, has a fantastic classroom library. I bet she’d recommend some grade middle grade books featuring the joys and challenges of friendship to Emily. Here are three of my favorite: 

1. Nest by Esther Ehrlich – Set in Cape Cod in the 1970s, Chirp and Joey are neighbors who form an unlikely friendship, founded in their own family hardships and their love of the natural world. 

Because Emily’s going through her own hardships at home with her parents’ divorce and the challenges of her sister’s eating disorder, Emily would benefit from seeing how true friends, who really understand you, can help you get through tough times. 

2. The BFF Bucket List by Dee Romito – Ella and Skyler are looking forward to going to high school together but find their friendship is growing apart. Ella comes up with a bucket list full of fun items they can do together - like committing random acts of kindness or hosting a dinner party - that will hopefully bring them closer. 

This is a perfect book to show Emily that old friendships change and evolve and new friendships can form and grow. It will give Emily some much needed hope!

3. The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu – Clover and Danny are the very best of friends. In fact, science-loving Clover believes they are symbiotic, meaning that they need each other to survive. When Danny gets sick, Clover needs to figure out how to balance being both a good friend to Danny and a good friend to herself. In The Someday Suitcase, Clover opens herself up to new friendships with fellow classmates. 

This would be good for Emily to see as a model as she forges her own new friendships. 

The waters of middle school can be tough to navigate, but some great real life friends (and a few fictional ones!) can bring joy, understanding, and comfort to the journey. 


Thank you Jennifer! I've read Nest, but will have to check out the other two titles. Here's a link to Jennifer's colorful website, a handy curriculum guide and a giveaway entry! Students, please check with your parents first before entering!


Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari. 278 p. Balzer + Bray/ HarperCollins Publishers, August 22, 2017. 978006243928. (Review from arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Summer is ending and middle school looms. Emily Murphy can/ cannot wait. She's definitely anxious about it. What she can't wait for is the release of the next Unicorn Chronicles book. She and best bud, Hazel are mega-fans. They love to dress up in costume and get in line on release day. But when Hazel shows up at Emily's house, she not only doesn't have a costume but she's sporting blond streaks in her light brown hair and Very Berry lip gloss on her lips. What's more, Hazel gets impatient when Emily talks to a boy in a terrific costume at the bookstore. Turns out, the boy is known as Soap Boy and Hazel informs Emily that she shouldn't be seen associating with the likes of him. Then, when they head to the pizza joint, Hazel suddenly doesn't want to share their usual pizza and opts instead for a veggie pizza and water. When Hazel's field hockey friends stop by the pizza place, she invites them without asking Emily. Emily feels and is made to feel out of place and is left unsure about her friendship with Hazel.

Emily's dealing with stuff at home. She and her mother are still processing her mom's divorce. Her father and stepmother moved to a new house where Emily does not feel at home despite her stepmother's invitations to make her room her own. Additionally, her beloved older sister Mina has been in an in-patient treatment facility for an eating disorder. Emily has no idea how to feel about that because while she loves Mina, the drama of her disease takes center stage and Emily is expected to deal with her own problems. She's furious and then feels guilty for her fury. 

Childhood friendships come and go, wax and wane but the effects of this seem intensified in middle school. These years are filled with such flux, emotionally and physically. Some kids hit puberty early, bewildering shifts in social hierarchies leave some behind. Emily clearly doesn't get the new code and finds herself constantly saying and doing the wrong things much to Hazel's chagrin and to the mean delight of Hazel's new friends.

Maschari depicts middle school and tween interactions realistically with dialogue that sounds authentic. Emily's first-person narrative is honest and endearing. The adults in Emily's life are imperfect but loving. Her relationship with Mina has changed and Mina's relationship with food will be an ongoing concern. After a few mis-steps, Emily finds friendship with Hector and his sister. Readers will root for and relate to Emily. An author's note at the end informs readers about her choice to depict eating disorders from Emily's perspective. She cautions about how serious they are and recommends four web sites for further information about them.

Growing up is hard. A middle school library can't have too many books about friendship and change on its shelves. Things That Surprise You is a fine addition. Hand this to fans of Frances O'Roark Dowell's The Kind of Friends We Used to Be or Lauren Myracle's Winnie Years series. 

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