Chronically Dolores

­Listening Library. Mar. 2024. 846p. $25. ISBN 9780593793886.
Gr 7 Up–Prodigious Van Wagenen’s first novel opens with a droll dedication: “For my people—the young, wry, and chronically ill. At least we’re in excellent company.” Villarreal’s own excellence is immediate because, despite being a story with so much going wrong—reputations, communication, friendships, families—she audibly ensures much more will go absolutely right. Fourteen-year-old Dolores Mendoza has interstitial cystitis. She got labeled “piddler” after a middle-school bladder accident. Then she lost her BFF. When she meets Terpsichore Berkenbosch-Jones, the new girl’s directness causes more jolting embarrassment. Terpsichore has autism spectrum disorder, her overbearing mother’s excuse for constant surveillance. The new friends (but, are they?) hatch a mutually beneficial plan involving reunion and freedom. Villarreal gleefully, convincingly voices bathroom reviews, un-Catholic confessions, revisionist telenovela scenes, and more. Van Wagenen cameos to share her experiences living with interstitial cystitis and autism.
VERDICT Expertly ciphered by Villarreal, Van Wagenen’s memorable crew proves indeed to be excellent company.

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