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You Go First

Erin Entrada Kelly

Greenwillow Books
Pages : 304
Suggested Ages: 8-12
ISBN: 9780062414182

Hilarious, heartfelt, and at times a little sad, You Go First plants its flag directly into the complicated landscape that is middle school and modern American youth. Like only the best young adult authors of our day are able to do, Kelly projects an immediate authenticity into the plight of our protagonists, Charlotte and Ben.

Charlotte is from the suburbs of Philadelphia while Ben resides with his family in Louisiana, but their friendship evolves over an ongoing game of online Scrabble. Both of these kids are bright, compassionate, and utterly isolated and ignored by their peers. The Scrabble game allows them to interact and we see a cross-section of their lives as the power of friendship shows them that they are not as different, or alone, as they first may have appeared. 

There is an irresistible rhythm to this book, and Kelly finds a way to make you truly care not only about each protagonist, but also about their budding friendship. This is a book about finding comfort in your world, and the power of companionship even when that takes the form of an ongoing conversation between two parties separated by thousands of miles.

I was a bit leery of reading and reviewing this book, as the digital conversation, long-distance sub-genre of middle grade and young adult fiction has seen itself played out since the popularity of online communication has risen. But I think this book handles the plights of middle school children, and the challenges they face each day with incredible care, respect and authenticity, including the challenges they face in the realms of communication. 

This is a feel-good read for anyone who has ever felt alone, and a testament to the importance of having even one person care and believe in you, and the life-changing power of that privilege. 

Reviewed by : Lawrence N. Caldwell

Themes : Friendship, family

If you love this book, then try:

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Critics have said

"Heartfelt and hopeful, this novel will encourage young readers to offer their hand in friendship to kids who, just like them, might be struggling." - School Library Journal

"The link between the two main characters becomes a subtle bond that enables each one to make it through an emotionally challenging week and come out stronger." - Booklist