Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail – Review by Kari Riedel
Middle school. Just the words can evoke very specific images and feelings for many people. Laughter with BFFs. Drama with BFFs. Awkward first crushes. Burgeoning independence. Added responsibility. Homework. Stress. As the parent of a current middle schooler, I often wonder how middle school is different for kids today than it was for me. How is social media and constant connectedness though cell phones impacting kids’ social interactions? Why would you have a 100-day Snapchat streak with someone that you wouldn’t say Hello to when you see them at Starbucks? How can you have a whole conversation via text composed solely of emojis? Is that 24-7 screen in your pocket that different from the hot pink phone and personal landline number I got when I was 14?
When I read Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail, I got a glimpse into the real world of today’s middle schoolers and a reminder of the timeless awkwardness of this period of life. This book was described to me as “Cyrano de Bergerac” for middle schoolers. I was hooked from page one of this tender and funny book that is told through first person narration of events and screenshots of text conversations.
Gracie Grant, 13 going on 14, finds herself suddenly crushing on AJ, a boy she’s known since kindergarten. But, AJ is interested in her beautiful best friend, Sienna. Gracie is used to being the friend that makes others happy, so she volunteers to help Sienna and AJ get together. She plays “Cyrano” by composing witty texts on behalf of Sienna that make AJ fall for her even more. Gracie also navigates other middle school dramas like dealing with the “Loud Crowd” girls, having friends that are boys vs. boyfriends, and holding your emotions in versus blurting them out.
I adored the relatable characters and highly realistic situations in this story. I particularly loved that that the author took this story deeper than just mean girls and first dates. Gracie’s life has an unexpected heaviness. Her older sister died before she was born, and she always lived with the feeling of being the replacement child that must bring happiness to her parents. She feels that she must always be “fine” and keep things “fine” for those around her. I think a lot of young people can relate to Gracie’s questioning angst. What role do I play in the family? With my friends? What’s the right balance between thinking of others and making myself happy?
But, more important than my endorsement of this book is the high approval it got from the girls in my 6th and 7th grade book club. They agreed that Rachel Vail nailed the inner voice of a “good” middle school girl that wants to be true to herself and make others happy. The relationship drama is kept sweet and PG but is filled with enough humor and intrigue to keep kids turning the pages. They recommended it as a great addition to middle school summer reading lists or as a mother-kid book club selection. If you’re a parent or teacher and want to understand middle school kids better, read this book!
Kari Riedel is the mom of 4th and 7th grade boys who love to read if they have a good book. She is also the founder of Bookopolis.com, an online community made especially for 7-13 year old readers to swap book reviews and recommendations with friends. Kari believes in the power of kid voice and kid choice to help kids discover books they can’t wait to read. To see what books Bookopolis readers recommend, follow her on Twitter @bookopolis.