A Work in Progress

Aladdin. May 2023. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781665905152.
Gr 4-8–Nothing has been the same for seventh grader Will Chambers since the day three years ago when a bully cruelly called him fat: “But up until that point/ …/ I hadn’t known/ it was the thing/ about me/ that mattered most / to the rest / of the world. I hadn’t known/ that it made everyone/ who saw me/ feel uncomfortable/ or filled them/ with disgust.” Since then, Will has isolated himself and internalized the ugliness thrown at him. His journal-entries-in-verse, through which his story is told, detail his negative self-image and feelings of shame and anxiety. As Will navigates middle school, including a crush on a classmate named Jules and a spark of friendship with a skateboarder named Markus, his struggles with body dysmorphia and disordered eating intensify. This is reflected not only in his increasingly painful verse entries, but in the grayscale doodles that accompany them. At times, Will depicts himself as a monster, and dark knots of scribbles grow larger throughout the story, eventually swallowing several pages. The combination of art and verse is affecting and, at times, heartbreaking. Readers are sure to empathize with or relate to Will’s journey, which ultimately ends on a hopeful note. Central characters appear white in the novel’s illustrations.
VERDICT An honest and sensitive exploration of body image and self-acceptance. Recommended.

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