Review of Things Seen from Above

Things Seen from Above
by Shelley Pearsall; illus. by Xingye Jin
Intermediate    Knopf    262 pp.
2/20    978-1-5247-1739-1    $16.99
Library ed.  978-1-5247-1740-7    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-1741-4    $9.99

April, beginning sixth grade and dealing with her own friendship issues, takes an interest in a younger student with puzzling behaviors and a surprising artistic skill. April’s former best friend has joined the cool-girl group, so to avoid cafeteria humiliation, she volunteers to staff the school’s Buddy Bench at recess. Fourth grader Joey Byrd spends recess lying on the ground with his eyes shut or walking in circles around the playground. April and fellow Buddy Bench volunteer Veena slowly form a connection with Joey and — with the help of a trip to the roof, courtesy of the custodian — realize that Joey’s walks actually create large-scale drawings in the playground’s dirt. Joey, in chapters written in his voice, gradually warms up to the girls, but when they bring his art to the attention of the whole school, the scrutiny puts him in situations outside his comfort zone. Joey is clearly neuroatypical, though never diagnosed in the book (“Does it matter?” the guidance counselor asks when April wonders whether he’s on the autism spectrum). April’s social struggles are authentic, and the intergrade dynamics of elementary school ring true. Pearsall writes about compassion without preachiness, bringing the story’s threads together in a satisfying ending that’s feel-good but far from sappy. Black-and-white art is interspersed.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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