You Go First

304p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062414182.
RedReviewStarGr 4–6—An online Scrabble game is more than a pastime, it's a lifeline for middle schoolers Charlotte and Ben: both children are coping with heartache. Charlotte's father is in the hospital, and her best friend is drifting toward a new social circle where Charlotte isn't welcome. Struggling to fit in at a new school, Ben's parents announce their divorce. The children's game postings evolve into a friendship by phone—they live in different states—that reassures them they aren't alone. Kelly (Hello, Universe) knows her audience well and uses Ben and Charlotte's alternating points of view to capture moments of tween anguish with searing honesty. Foreshadowing facts lead each of Charlotte's chapters and information about sea stars is perfectly incorporated in a powerful scene about bullying. Kelly takes the concerns of young readers' seriously while reassuring them that, with time and resilience, they will eventually be okay. Ben and Charlotte's gradual understanding of the changing forces that affect their lives is reinforced through gentle pacing and careful plotting: a Robert Frost quote is strategically placed so that when revealed in its entirety, both the protagonists—and readers—are ready to understand it.
VERDICT Heartfelt and hopeful, this novel will encourage young readers to offer their hand in friendship to kids who, just like them, might be struggling.

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