When We Were Strangers

Bloomsbury. Jul. 2021. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781547603640.
Gr 8 Up–While Evie sits in class during the last few days of school, she receives word that her dad has suffered a heart attack. He dies, and Evie returns home to discover that he had packed his bags, ready to move out of the house and in with his girlfriend. She quickly puts everything back in place so that her mother, who has not arrived home yet, won’t know her father’s plans. The next few weeks and months, both Evie and her mother have a difficult time, with her mother drinking too much and Evie sad and angry at her dad, especially when she finds out about his girlfriend’s pregnancy. With the help of her best friend Juana and a new friend she meets in a photography workshop that her uncle arranged for her to take, Evie begins to stalk Bree, her father’s girlfriend. Set in Santa Fe, NM, Richards does a superb job of sharing the ambience of the city. Richards also paints a compelling portrait of the many faces of grief as Evie and her mother process and try to come to terms with their loss. Ultimately, Evie must face her father’s girlfriend and decide if she wants to be part of her half-sibling’s life. The intensity of this decision impacts not only Evie, but also Juana and her mother. The emotional aspects of dealing with the aftermath of death show the characters’ grief, anger, love, and resiliency. Evie is white and Juana is Latinx.
VERDICT A strongly written plot, a complementary setting, and strong characters make this a compelling read.

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