HarperAlley. Nov. 2021. 240p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780063032859; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780063032842.
Gr 5 Up–Greene chronicles the often bumpy road to self-discovery that’s triggered by puberty. As Jay, a kind but anxious eighth grader, grows intensely aware of his appearance, specifically his acne, he decides to try Accutane, an intense, sustained oral treatment that requires him to take responsibility for his own health. At school, he watches friendships dissolve and builds new ones, encounters obnoxious bullies, and explores his artistic interests. His classmates date and deal with crushes, but Jay realizes, to his initial confusion, that he’s not particularly attracted to any of his peers. As the year goes on, and through a few well-placed discussions, he begins to consider the idea of asexual or aromantic identity. Weaving together everyday incidents and annoyances with revelatory moments, the narrative is somewhat subdued but true to life—not every challenge must be paralyzing, and not every conclusion must be a sea change. A story about kids learning to feel good about themselves on their own terms is no small thing, and Jay is a low-key, lovely protagonist. Greene’s simple, bubbly color illustrations are friendly and accessible, matching the content perfectly. Jay is white.
VERDICT An earnest exploration of adolescence, recognizable and relevant to middle schoolers coming into their own.

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