Eight months after her younger brother Theo dies from a rare heart condition, 12-year-old Lucy Rothman’s grieving parents need a fresh start, so the white Jewish family moves from Maryland to Queensland, Va., a town still deeply affected by a school shooting four years prior. Seventh grader Lucy’s tightly knit new classmates speak openly about their losses while she, feeling estranged from the group, keeps hers a secret. Feeling distanced from both her parents and peers, Lucy is lonely, and math, once her favorite subject, no longer brings comfort. It isn’t until she befriends another white loner, Avery—the school shooter’s much younger half sister—that Lucy begins to heal. When the girls take an after-school mime class together, Lucy comes to realize that, though grief takes many forms, those affected can form connections. Showing a keen understanding of loss, Isler’s compassionate debut is written with stark honesty, showcasing various responses to tragedy, including Lucy’s parents’ inability to talk about the past, the students’ collective need to share their stories, and encouragement of therapy. Back matter includes an author’s note and discussion questions. Ages 10–14. Agent: Kari Sutherland, Bradford Literary. (Sept.)
"Isler's debut novel bravely dives into the long-term recovery and age-appropriate exploration of trauma on children through the eyes of 12-year-old Lucy. After her brother, Theo, dies from a lifelong heart defect, Lucy's parents move her to a new town. Her first day of seventh grade is lonely and isolating but not just because she is the new kid; the students in her grade survived a school shooting four years earlier and have a special bond, and she's having a tough time finding a way in. She once found solace in math, but when she joins an after-school mime class, Lucy learns to express herself in different ways. She finds that unlike math, life doesn't always have absolute answers. Isler consulted mental-health professionals and gun-violence survivors in writing this book and provides young readers a safe way to learn how to navigate grief and explore this topic safely. Like Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ghost Boys, Isler's novel takes the timely and realistic topic of gun violence and turns it into an engaging story without sensationalizing it."—Booklist
Gr 5 Up—Queensland, VA, a town devastated by a mass school shooting, is perhaps the toughest place tween Lucy Rothman can ever imagine moving, especially as a new member of the affected seventh grade class. Though her mother obsessively redecorates, Lucy's new room, which belonged to one of the victims, feels weighed down by memories. Lucy is enveloped by death; her parents wanted a fresh start after losing her younger brother to a heart condition. Wrecked, alone, and with aloof parents, Lucy finds solace in math and logic. A friendly math teacher and his improv class prove instrumental as she works to stitch her classmates, herself, and her family together again. Isler's novel provides a look at the turmoil that is felt years after a tragedy. Her original yet devastatingly plausible scenario will entice tween readers, who will connect with the authentic narrator. Lucy's thoughts, conversations, and thought-provoking math equations offer an emotional glimpse into the disrupted lives of the victims. Some readers will relate to Lucy's inaccessible parents and further discover ideas on mending such relationships. Despite the weight of the premise, the book is accessible, and there are even occasional chuckles and hints at young romance. Short chapters and a well-paced plot will keep tweens reading and also create a day-by-day approach to the challenging topic. The ending feels simplistic and perhaps a bit too easily resolved but provides a hopeful outlook. VERDICT Isler nose-dives into the perhaps taboo topic of school shootings, yet breathes healing, change, and math into the emotional catharsis.—Mary-Brook J. Townsend, formerly at The McGillis Sch., Salt Lake City
After her brother dies, a girl tries to navigate seventh grade in a new school filled with students who are also coping with trauma.
After Lucy’s 5-year-old brother, Theo, dies from a rare congenital heart condition, her parents, who commute to work in Washington, D.C., decide they need a fresh start. They move from suburban Maryland to Queensland, a fictional Virginia suburb marked by an elementary school shooting four years previously. In the town of 2,500, 32 people were killed; all the children who died were in third grade, and when Lucy arrives, she’s the first new student to join the shattered class. Not only that, her bedroom in the new house belonged to a girl who was a shooting victim. Lucy’s new classmates talk openly and frequently about the shooting, but Lucy plans to keep Theo a secret. While struggling with losing touch with her best friend from home and her parents’ emotional distance, she tentatively befriends Avery, a girl the other students ostracize. Isler’s debut unfortunately feels overwrought, and some plot points strain credulity; for example, in densely populated Northern Virginia, the students from the elementary building that was torn down in the wake of the shooting would have been reassigned to other schools. Additionally, Avery’s journey from pariah to acceptance happens far too smoothly. Lucy and her family are Jewish and, like Avery, read as White.
Lacks the nuance necessary to do justice to this sensitive subject. (author’s note, discussion questions) (Fiction. 10-12)