Then Everything Happens at Once

HarperTeen. Jan. 2023. 432p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063206687.
Gr 9 Up–In early 2020 suburban Toronto, grade 11 student Baylee Kunkel takes pride in her appearance, but she is consumed with self-doubt about her size and her idea that she isn’t desirable. Baylee, who presents as white, pines for her handsome neighbor, Freddie Morales, but she begins to message Alex, a photographer for her favorite bookstore. Their flirtatious messaging gives Baylee lots of butterflies and rays of confidence. At home, her mother spends most of her time looking after Rebecca, Baylee’s sister with special needs. Fearful for Rebecca’s health, her mom begins to worry about the virus that is spreading. Faced with losing Baylee’s friendship, Freddie recognizes his feelings for her, just as Alex and Baylee start dating. Then it’s mid-March, the world turns on its end, and Baylee’s problems are magnified and simultaneously shadowed by the encroaching coronavirus. While the story takes time to gain momentum, Girard does a great job of contrasting life before and after lockdown and its effects on the characters. However, Baylee begins to morph into something like a selfish teen caricature, masking some of the self-growth she’s undergoing. Her relationship with Freddie effectively develops Girard’s sex-positive message, but the other story lines fall short of their narrative potential.
VERDICT Give to high school readers seeking stories about finding your self-worth.

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