Middle Grade Monday: You Go First, by Erin Estrada Kelly
Title: You Go First
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publication Info: Greenwillow Books, 2018. 288 pages.
Source: Library digital resources.
Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.
Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. You Go First reminds us that no matter how hard it is to keep our heads above troubled water, we never struggle alone.
This was a good book, and I enjoyed it, but somehow I didn't get excited about it. Maybe I was looking for something bigger to happen in the resolution, maybe I just wasn't in the mood for middle-school trauma (which is very real, but a ways behind me and just maybe not something I really like to revisit?). Nonetheless, I thought the story was well-written and the gimmick (internet Scrabble) gave it an interesting twist. I enjoyed reading it, and if I didn't feel an urge to race to the end, I didn't put it aside for long periods, either. I would actually say that it's pretty good.
When I think about it, maybe the biggest issue I have is that while Charlotte and Ben are portrayed as being friends, they actually very tenuously connected, and neither ever tells the other the big thing in their lives. Maybe that's not so unreasonable; they get some comfort just from someone who will pick up the phone when they call, but to me that didn't feel like a friendship.
Despite my criticisms of the book, I actually give it a pretty high rating for middle school kids (i.e. ages maybe 10-13). I *think* it might be helpful to a kid who's going through difficult times as they transition out of grade school. Or it might make them squirm. Hard to say. Maybe it would help some of those who decide that they have "outgrown" a friend to think twice.