The Other, Better Me

Harper. Oct. 2019. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062835659.
Gr 4-7–If fifth-grader Lola Harmon could find her father, she believes her life would be so much better. She could live in a big house like her friends, her mom wouldn’t have to work late shifts at the restaurant, and when her mom gets sick, Lola wouldn’t feel so alone. When her teacher assigns a project to write about what life would be like if one big thing were different, Lola decides to track down her father, convinced her whole life will change when she finds him. This story, ultimately, is about a girl trying to find her place as she feels stuck between childhood and adulthood. She is surrounded by loving adults, but struggles to trust them as she copes with the unexplained missing presence of her father. There are times when Lola seems much too gifted for her 10 years, and other times where she is frustratingly oblivious to her surroundings. Heavy themes feel scattered and at odds with the writing style, which is geared more toward younger middle-grade readers, and several weighty subplots feel lost in the overall story arc and are quickly forgotten. Many of the adults fail to be the strong role models Lola needs, but Lola has strong, positive peer friendships that set a good example of inclusion.
VERDICT Readers will appreciate John’s willingness to tackle big topics and may relate to Lola’s frustrations with growing up, but other readers may feel caught in the mire of plot threads.

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