Review of Just Shy of Ordinary

Just Shy of Ordinary Just Shy of Ordinary
by A. J. Sass
Middle School    Little, Brown    384 pp.
1/24    9780316506175    $16.99
e-book ed.  9780316506373    $9.99

Thirteen-year-old Shai Stern is looking for their “new normal.” In addition to an edgy new haircut and a change of pronouns, the former homeschooler is planning to attend public school for the first time. Their plan takes a surprise detour when the principal suggests Shai skip a grade and start school as a ninth grader. Shai’s transition is even more of a challenge without best friend and homeschool buddy Moose by their side. Thankfully, Shai quickly makes friends with Edie and Nia and even nurtures their first crush on Edie. Balancing the excitement about new connections is an overwhelming amount of homework and a new set of academic expectations, causing Shai’s anxiety and nervous skin-picking to return. A school project requires Shai to explore their family’s Jewish heritage and how Judaism views people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. From interviews with family, attending holiday services with grandparents, and witnessing antisemitic vandalism of the family’s synagogue, Shai learns more than expected about the importance of acceptance and community. While Sass tackles several heavy subjects in this affecting novel, readers remain hopeful as Shai comes out of each trial a stronger person.

Pubissue-From the March/April 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Hill Saxton

Hill Saxton is a youth services librarian at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.