Twelve is a hard age. Your body is changing, your thought processes are changing–maybe the world isn’t changing any more than it used to, but you’re noticing it now. I clearly remember spending the year I was twelve in a sort of survival mode. I desperately wanted to stay the same. My friends had no such intentions.
When I read The Kate in Between, by Claire Swinarski, I immediately found 12-year-old myself on its pages: not in Kate, the main character, but in her erstwhile best friend Haddie–the clueless but confident kid who wears weird clothes and reads tons of books and has passionate interests and isn’t troubled about fitting in as long as she has a best friend by her side. I may have been more subdued than Haddie, but boy could I feel her pain when Kate decided that a lifelong friendship wasn’t as important as fitting in with the popular crowd.
Here’s where the magic of good writing came in. Because the story is Kate’s, not Haddie’s. So I got to follow Kate–see Kate’s intentions, Kate’s rationale, Kate’s hurts. Far from being so stuck in the POV of the character like myself, I found myself cheering on one very unlike myself. This book does an incredible job of showing the reader how most of us really are somewhere “in between.” Kate is first lauded as a hero when she saves Haddie’s life, but she knows the reality is that her actions may have landed Haddie in danger in the first place. When the truth comes out, she’s reviled as a bully–but that isn’t 100% true either. Following Kate’s narration and thoughts throughout the story gives a dramatic bird’s-eye view of the wibbly-wobbly mess and wonder that is being human and being a friend–and, especially, that is being twelve.
This is a must-read for all my kids–it will go on the shelf with Shannon Hale’s Real Friends as a textbook for navigating tween friendships. Like Hale’s book, it’s also very funny and a pleasure to read. Also like Hale’s book, it’s one of the rare middle grade stories that portrays faith in a way that is at once background to the story and intrinsic to who the characters are–and I love that.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Greg’s blog, Always in the Middle: https://gpattridge.com