Review of You Go First

You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    292 pp.    g
4/18    978-0-06-241418-2    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-241420-5    $8.99

Two brainy middle-school outcasts — one in Pennsylvania, one in Louisiana — find companionship through online Scrabble as they both deal with upheaval in their lives. Twelve-year-old Charlotte’s father is in the hospital following a heart attack, and eleven-year-old Ben’s parents are getting a divorce. Neither one confides in the other as they continue their longstanding, long-distance Scrabble rivalry, but slowly they begin to communicate outside the game. Ben is running for student council, though he can’t even find anyone to sit with at lunch most of the time, and Charlotte struggles to understand why her best — and only — friend Bridget has become distant. Kelly does an excellent job of giving full in-the-moment import to the minor humiliations of middle school (Ben has an unfortunate experience while giving a speech to his classmates) and the resulting complex emotions (Charlotte feels the pain of ostracism, but realizes she herself has mistreated another girl). With character-revealing prose (“Ben entered the lunchroom like George Washington crossing the Delaware”), Kelly holds readers’ attention as the narration moves back and forth between her two fully realized protagonists and their intricately drawn home and school settings.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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