Just Shy of Ordinary

Little, Brown. Jan. 2024. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316506175.
Gr 4 Up–Thirteen-year-old Shai has a plan to create a new normal; come out as nonbinary, get a haircut that expresses who they are, attend public school, and stop picking at their arms. Ever since their mom lost her job during the pandemic, Shai has been picking the hairs on their arm and wearing arm sleeves to cover the scars it leaves behind. They believe that going from homeschooling to public school will provide the distraction they need to stop picking. As Shai makes new friends and their relationship with an old one evolves, they learn that no matter how strong you are, sometimes you need support. Shai’s struggles sharing their identity with friends, and the growing pains experienced as relationships change will resonate with readers. Shai has a strong support system of adults who care for them, including their mom, mom’s best friend, and grandparents. A class project also leads Shai to investigate their family’s roots in Judaism and why their mom no longer practices the religion. The potential for romance with a classmate who identifies as a lesbian brings up further conversations on the relationship between gender and sexuality.
VERDICT Shai’s struggles with identity, anxiety, first love, and faith will resonate with middle grade and young adult readers. A recommended purchase for all secondary school collections.

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