Review of The List of Things That Will Not Change

 The List of Things That Will Not Change
by Rebecca Stead
Intermediate    Lamb/Random    218 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-101-93809-6    $16.99
Library ed.  978-1-101-93810-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-101-93811-9    $9.99

From the outside it appears that Bea lives a charmed life. She has loving (albeit divorced) parents; an involved extended family; a kindly, funny teacher; a loyal best friend; a dog and a cat; and a wise therapist. Even situations involving life changes, such as her gay father’s upcoming wedding and the prospect of a new stepsister, seem to be curiously unfraught. But with Stead’s fiction (When You Reach Me, rev. 7/09; Goodbye Stranger, rev. 7/15), appearances are always deceiving. It turns out that Bea’s upbeat spin on life is papering over some major anxieties and some serious problems with anger management. Bea is keeping two secrets. She lets us in on one of them, a piece of well-meaning interference in the wedding plans that turns out to be a disaster. The other secret, hidden in plain sight but only revealed at the climax, involves deliberately causing harm to another person. The strength of this novel lies in Stead’s authentic, respectful, low-key approach to the emotional life of a ten-year-old as recalled from the perspective of her slightly older self (Bea is twelve when she tells the story: “a story about me, but a different one, a person who doesn’t exist anymore”). Difficulties with spelling, the pleasures of gummy bears, the pain of eczema, the ability to sense adult tension — we are fully present with Bea, in the rich, crisply rendered details and in her distinctive voice.

From the March/April 2020 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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