Review of Pity Party

Pity Party
by Kathleen Lane
Middle School    Little, Brown    208 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-316-41736-5    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-41735-8    $9.99

Katya is a nervous middle schooler whose fertile imagination defaults to disaster. The voice in her head warns of poisoned Halloween candy, looming social ostracism, imminent acne, and rabid raccoons. In six short entries we cheer her on as she breaks free of her fears and banishes the voice. Interleaved with this unifying story are portraits of Katya’s classmates at Bridger Middle School: Julian with his phobia about odd numbers, Kiera with her imposter syndrome, Gio who gets a new personality delivered in a box, Alice who feels so invisible she fears she’s a ghost. The tone shifts from naturalistic to surreal, jokey to strange, goofy to mordant, poetic to unabashedly therapeutic. Added to the mix are a recurring faux-interactive “Choose Your Own Catastrophe” game; teen-magazine-style quizzes; the minimalist saga of Marta, who wished for a different life and gets stuck being a tree; an invitation to a gathering for Elena, who died of embarrassment. All the varied moods and textures of these pieces come together into an original, convincing, spot-on, and weirdly moving collage portrait of middle-school-age insecurities, anxieties, awkwardness, and interpersonal dynamics.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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