Answers in the Pages

Knopf. May 2022. 176p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593484685.
Gr 5 Up–A timely and relevant release from prolific author Levithan, this slim tale showcases the turbulence and confusion of fifth grade as a school community tackles a classroom book challenge. The challenge is mainly rooted in a single sentence at the end of the assigned book that a mother happens to read when her son leaves it on the counter. Suddenly the classroom is in an uproar, with readers getting the play-by-play from a number of sources: Donovan, the kid who left the book out and whose mother is challenging it; Gideon and Roberto, two students paired up for a language arts project; and Rick and Oliver, the main characters in the controversial book. The interpretation of the novel and the nature of the challenge become a philosophical quagmire that the school leaders, parents, and students have to traverse, leaving family and friends on both sides of the issue. Levithan deftly addresses the heart of the problem with the words and mind of a student, “We are who we are…and we’ll be who we’ll be. A book can make us feel that, but it can’t invent that. It’s already inside us.” The alternating points of view gives readers varying perspectives in the chaos. It is a swift ride highlighting the disconnect between students and adults, seemingly unbreakable alliances, and what happens when the weight of history enters the conversation. This heartfelt treatise on book banning and equality showcases how it feels to be stuck in the middle of a generational fight. Levithan has crafted a story that provides a window into a uniquely transitory age, one ripe for exploring the nuance of identity and the nature of personal prohibition, and which ultimately celebrates the messiness of being human, no matter the age.
VERDICT An essential purchase for middle school libraries.

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