Giving Young Readers Hope with Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart – A Review by Sarah Krajewski
Reading is more important than ever. I know that’s quite a bold statement, but I believe it to be true. Yes, reading improves children’s literacy skills, and helps them make sense of the world around them. But that’s not all. Reading teaches empathy, and gives parents and teachers opportunities to introduce topics they may not know how to handle otherwise. Books like George by Alex Gino, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven flew off my shelves last year, and now this coming September I will be sharing a new favorite title that will provide much needed inspiration and encouragement to many: Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.
Eighth grader Lily Jo McGrother has a family that many children would dream of, except for her father. To say he is embarrassed by her is an understatement. He can’t comprehend Lily’s need to be who she is: a girl. Lily was born Timothy McGrother, and that’s who she will always be to him. Thankfully, Lily has her mother and sister Sarah who love her for who she is inside. At school, Lily goes by Tim, for it could be so much worse if she didn’t. At least Lily has one friend who understands her: Dare. She calls her Lily, supports her, and even encourages her to come out as Lily in school. Unfortunately, because of Lily’s father, she doesn’t yet have the necessary courage to do so.
Soon Lily meets Norbert Dorfman–nicknamed Dunkin by Lily–a new student at her school. They meet when Lily is dressed as Tim, so Dunkin does not know about Lily. They form a unique friendship, though each of them are hiding their true selves from one another. Dunkin worries about his reputation, so when he witnesses a bully named Vasquez call Tim derogatory names, he does not have the strength to stand up for him. Dunkin desperately needs a friend though, for he is struggling with bipolar disorder, which his own father had. He begins to take drastic measures to fit in, even lying about his ability to play basketball to Vasquez and his group of friends: the Neanderthals. Dunkin ends up becoming his own worst enemy, getting himself into unnecessary trouble because of his strong desire to belong.
With all of their struggles, one may wonder what keeps Lily and Dunkin going in a world where everyone is not accepting of those that are “different.” What keeps the reader going is the desire to know that these two memorable characters will be okay in the end. This is author Donna Gephart’s point: to instill hope in her readers. Parents around the world are raising Lilys and Dunkins, and teachers are working to make connections with them in their classrooms. We need books like Lily and Dunkin to give our children the courage to be themselves, knowing that there are others out there like them. The lessons woven into this novel will seep into those that read it, and those, in turn, will share it with others. Lily and Dunkin is a story that everyone needs to read.
Sarah Krajewski is a 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High School (near Buffalo, New York). She is about to enter her 15th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.