Where We Used To Roam

Aladdin. Mar. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534457294.
Gr 5-7–Emma, who lives in a Boston suburb with loving parents and her adored older brother Austin, is having a turbulent first year in middle school. She meets Kennedy and Lucy, fellow artists who have more in common with her than her oldest friend, Becca. Emma feels torn between these friendships and dismayed by her instinct to mock Becca to her new friends. Emma then learns that Austin has become addicted to opioids after surgery for a sports injury. Written in unadorned, straightforward prose, this is a sensitive and gentle portrayal of opioid addiction that focuses on Emma’s rather than Austin’s experience but stays true to hard realities: Austin overdoses (and survives) just as he is finishing rehab. Emma finds comfort in shared experience when she makes another new friend, Tyler, whose mother is incarcerated for drug dealing. Emma and her family are cued as white, as are the majority of characters. Becca is Jewish; a teacher has a South Asian last name; Kennedy has two moms; and Tyler is gay. When Tyler admits to a crush on a boy Emma reacts as a friend would, encouraging Tyler to approach him. This earnest and respectful attention to the joys and complications of friendships in middle school balances the story’s harsher realities and, in the end, underlines the story’s message that finding and maintaining solid friendships is an essential life skill.
VERDICT This sensitive portrayal of drug addiction’s effect on family members also pays significant attention to broader issues such as the growing pains of forming identities and forging new friendships in middle school; should appeal to a wide audience.

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