Middle Grade Review: Just Like Me
Title: Just Like Me
Author: Nancy J. Cavanaugh
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2016. 256 pages
Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them.
To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.
Julia was adopted from a Chinese orphanage when she was a toddler, and as far as she is concerned, she is a lot more Irish and Italian than Chinese. So being pushed to embrace her "Chinese sisters" and her whole Chinese heritage brings out, well, the worst in her. In fact, she's become embarrassed by all things Chinese, so her sisters have a point when they say that she's ashamed to be Chinese.
In this quick read, Julia and her sisters (and the other three girls in their cabin) have a lot to learn about themselves, each other, and getting along. The process isn't pretty. I appreciated, though, that they *all* get to learn, and to understand their own flaws as well as what makes the others tick. It would have been easy for the author to do what I thought at first she was going to do: set up an enemy against whom Julia, Avery, and Becca would be forced to become a team. It doesn't quite work that way, to my delight. As we work through a mix of standard 1st-person narration, Julia's journal, and a letter to the woman from the adoption agency, we get a front-row seat at the transformation.
The girls, in fact, have several things to work out. Julia needs to come to grips with her own past, including a niggling worry that I'm guessing must be pretty common to adopted kids: didn't her birth mother love her? And all five of the girls need to learn what it takes to be friends and to be a team, and how to cope with their own private struggles. The summer church-camp setting works very well for this, as the theme of the camp session is peace and cooperation. As an adult who has wrangled a cabin full of girls about this age, I spared more than one moment of sympathy for their counselor (and, in fact, Julia does likewise, which seemed a promising sign of possible maturity). I was glad to see the counselor develop a spine and maybe even a plan to help the girls help themselves.
At first I didn't think there was much to this book. But the author didn't take the easy way out, and by the end I thought that she did a great job with all the themes. I'll recommend for kids maybe 9 and up, and especially for adopted kids--or anyone who knows and loves an adopted kid.
FTC Disclosure: I checked Just Like Me out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
For a whole different take on growing up, check out The Problem With Peggy, now available from Amazon and Smashwords, as well as other on-line bookstores.Or order signed copies direct from the author!