Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Once You Know This (review)

Once You Know This
Author: Emily Blejwas
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (September 19, 2017)

Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.

I am not always a fan of "issue" books, and at first I worried this might be too gritty and harsh for middle grade kids to deal with. I think the author could have lightened her touch a little at first, but the characters are strong and appealing, and I quickly got caught up in the glimpses of hope that Brittany couldn't always see for herself. Her friend, Marisol, is a gem (both as a friend and as a character), and I grew more and more interested in the various people who Brittany depends on or who depend on her to get through a life that feels insurmountable yet real.

In some ways, this reminds me of SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick, though aimed at somewhat younger readers. That is high praise from me, though it is tempered by the worry that only some kids will be able to handle the variety of issues. But perhaps I underestimate today's middle grade students, many of whom deal with a world that is difficult and challenging.

I like how the seeds of hope are planted in this book, and that when they grow, it is not unrealistically rosy, but is very satisfying. I also like that the adults in Brittany's life, while flawed in different ways, are clearly trying to do what is best for her, even when they can't always manage.

ONCE YOU KNOW THIS is heartfelt and sincere with a strong dose of hopeful even against a grim backdrop. Ultimately, it is very satisfying, and the characters will stay with you. For those children who relate to it, I can see it becoming a favorite.

This is a very good book, and I recommend it for 9-14 year-olds with the caveat that it is somewhat intense, and the number of issues may be wonderful for some readers, but too much for others.

Four stars out of five.

Available on Amazon.

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