Unaccustomed to new kids moving to Norwell, Fla., 12-year-old Mal Moss, who is part Korean and part white, is excited when Chinese American classmate Jennifer arrives. But when Mal learns that Jennifer believes in aliens, she worries that pursuing a friendship will negatively impact her social status at school. Mal’s certainty that their classmates won’t accept Jennifer’s idiosyncrasies are confirmed when school begins and Jennifer becomes the target of harassment at the hands of Mal’s best friends Tess and Reagan, both cued as white. After Jennifer runs away, Mal searches for her, using the help of entries from one of Jennifer’s notebooks, determined to make up for past mistakes by solving the mystery behind her absence. Keller (When You Trap a Tiger) uses a vulnerable first-person narrative that alternates between past and present to sensitively detail the emotional roller coaster of navigating changing social rules, the anxieties of being oneself, and the process of coming to terms with one’s flaws. Its core message about bullying and its effect on both the bully and their target offer a sincere look into individuals’ desire for acceptance. An author’s note concludes. Ages 8–12. Agent: Faye Bender, Book Group. (Apr.)
I absolutely loved this book! Tae’s glorious writing had me hooked and her characters, so wonderfully imperfect and nuanced, felt instantly relatable. She had me wondering which is more mysterious: extraterrestrials, or the beautiful, occasionally-heartbreaking intricacies of friendship.” –R. J. Palacio, New York Times bestselling author of Wonder and Pony
"Keller’s skillful interior narration puts us inside Mallory’s skin, even when it makes us uncomfortable." —The New York Times
★ “A mesmerizing look at bullying and its aftereffects.” —Kirkus, starred review
★ “By setting the victim, the missing Jennifer, into the narrative background, Keller directs the flood light onto Mallory and company and aims responsibility (and possible redemption) right where it belongs.” —The Bulletin, starred review
★ “With an appeal to a wide variety of readers, this genre fusion is highly recommended for all library shelves.” —School Library Journal, starred review
★ “The emotionally absorbing story is full of thought-provoking explorations on self-confidence, forgiveness, and friendship while illuminating parallels between alien and human struggles.” —Booklist, starred review
★ “Keller uses a vulnerable first-person narrative that alternates between past and present to sensitively detail the emotional roller coaster of navigating changing social rules, the anxieties of being oneself, and the process of coming to terms with one’s flaws.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Gr 5–7—"There are also things I don't know. Like, do some people really just have popularity? Or is it given, or taken, or some combination of both?" Mallory Moss ponders this question as she struggles to find her place in middle school and in the world at large. Jennifer Chan, a new girl from Chicago, has just moved to Norwell, FL, and the rumors about her are already swirling. As Jennifer's neighbor, Mallory discovers that Jennifer's strength and quirky personality, along with her firm belief in aliens, are a recipe for disaster for the upcoming seventh grade year. Jennifer, on the other hand, is thrilled to have a new friend, but is stunned to learn that their budding friendship means nothing at school, because Mallory is one of the mean girls. When Jennifer goes missing, Mallory's world is shaken; she knows that she must revisit the bullying Jennifer experienced to get to the truth and hope it's not too late to save her. Written from Mallory's perspective in chapters that alternate between "Then" and "Now," Newbery-winning author Keller's book contains an exciting mix of mystery, adventure, and science fiction. Readers will bond with Mallory and stay engaged in the well-paced plot. Mallory and Jennifer are both Asian, while most friends read as white. VERDICT With an appeal to a wide variety of readers, this genre fusion is highly recommended for all library shelves.—Tracy Cronce
This story about one girl’s reaction to another seventh grader’s disappearance reveals the internal impact of bullying.
Mallory Moss, a 12-year-old girl in a small Florida town, was the first to meet Jennifer Chan. Chinese American Jennifer moved from the Midwest into the house across the street during the summer. Mallory, who is Korean and implied White, knows that the new girl will have trouble once their predominantly White, Christian school begins: For one thing, Jennifer believes in aliens. Alternating between chapters labeled “Now” that are set in the present day and “Then,” describing events before Jennifer vanishes, the book dives right into the action as Jennifer goes missing in the first chapter. Texts start flying between Mallory and her friends as they worry about what Mallory calls “the Incident” with Jennifer that took place a few days before her disappearance. While the search for Jennifer intensifies, Mallory replays prior events with growing dread, looking for clues. The storyline slowly reveals cracks in friendships, with Mallory questioning her responsibility for many pieces of this puzzle. Keller successfully captures the emotional ennui of middle school tweens who are jockeying for social status, anxious and riddled with doubt, and yearning for a sense of identity. There is clearly enough hurt to go around, and this story provides one solution for getting through dark days.
A mesmerizing look at bullying and its aftereffects. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)