Author: Natasha Friend
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Source: eARC from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
In this powerful and buoyant YA novel, a thirteen-year-old girl learns to navigate the shifting loyalties of friendships in middle school and deals with challenges at home.
The beginning of the eighth grade is not what Anna thought it would be. Her lifelong best friend has ditched her for the cool kids, and her mom is in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Anna finds herself where she least expects to: living with her dad, his young new wife, and their baby, and starting a new year at school without a best friend. With help from some unlikely sources, including a crazy girl-band talent show act, Anna learns that sometimes you find what you need to pull you through in the most unlikely places.
If you know me, you know that I just don't read any middle grade novel. I have to really be invested in the content and the plot for me to even consider reading it. When I first saw the synopsis for Where You'll Find Me, I thought that it sounded like it might be tackling too much, but what I found out was that it tackles just enough to teach its intended audience about life. Where You'll Find Me by Natasha Friend is one of the most compelling middle grade/YA books that I've ever read! I could not stop reading this charming and beautiful little novel that tackles so many different subjects in a truly wonderful and educational way.
Thirteen-year-old Anna Collette isn't having the greatest start to eighth grade. Her best friend has ditched her for the popular crowd, and she's essentially friendless. On top of that, she found her mom in bed after a suicide attempt and has had to move in with her father, his shiny new wife, Marnie, and their baby, Jane. It's all about adjusting for Anna - adjusting to her new home, adjusting to a new bus, and making some new friends along the way.
Now I said that Where You'll Find Me tackles a lot of subjects, right? The first is one that I think many middle school kids know all too well - being ditched. Yes, Anna's best friend since kindergarten just decides that they aren't friends anymore. Anna is devastated because she feels like she's lost a piece of herself. I think that so many seventh and eighth graders will be able to relate to Anna because of this because middle school is all about growing up and making new friends. It's all about experiencing new things, and Anna will have to do that all without a best friend. Seeing her deal with the loss of Dani is tough, but I think that Ms. Friend portrayed it all realistically. She shows Anna longing for that connection, but she also shows just how strong Anna is by making some new friends.
Along the way, Anna does make some new friends. She's at first resistant. She doesn't want things to change. She wants things to go back to the way they were in elementary school and seventh grade. She doesn't want to be friends with the people that everyone calls "freaks." Eventually, something breaks in Anna, and she realizes just who her true friends are. She starts going to slumber parties and football games with her new group of friends, and eventually, she opens up to them about everything going on in her home life. It's nice to Anna grow up. I found myself smiling and cheering her on, and I really think that she'll be a great role model for the older elementary and middle school students who will read this book.
There are also some darker subjects in Where You'll Find Me, and I'm actually really impressed that I finally found a middle grade novel that accurately depicts mental illness. For most of her life, Anna has known that her mom has depression. She knows that it started with postpartum depression, and that it's escalated from that. Anna's had to get her mom out of bed, force her to shower, and even call the school where her mom works when she needs a day off. To say that life hasn't been easy for Anna would be an understatement. But Anna's also in the dark about a lot of things, and she starts to find out more and more when she finds her mom in bed after ingesting a bottle of Advil. I know that not every middle school student will have to deal with what Anna has had to deal with in her short thirteen years, but I feel like Friend made an excellent choice when she decided to write about what it's like to deal with a parent who is mentally ill. Not only is it insightful, but I really think that a lot of young readers might learn something from this book. There's even one passage between Anna and her guidance counselor that I think will let young readers know that diseases like depression and bipolar disorder are nothing to be ashamed about:
I stare at her. "I don't want to talk to my friends about my mom."
"It's ... I don't know ... embarrassing."
"It's embarrassing that she has a chemical imbalance in her brain?"
I shake my head. That's not what I mean.
"Would it be embarrassing if she had cancer?"
I also really enjoyed seeing Anna adjust to life under her father's roof. She's still angry at him for leaving her mother, but she needs to find a way to make things work. She's kind of icy when it comes to her stepmother, but hey, Marnie is only about a decade older than Anna. She can't sleep at night because her baby sister screams. It's inevitable that she's miserable. I don't have experience with a stepmother or half-siblings, but I think that the stress and angst that Friend includes in these scenes is warranted. It seems completely normal for Anna to be angry and confused about these new people in her life, and I really liked seeing the imperfect family moments.
I only have one complaint about this book, and it's not even all that bad. I feel like it's a bit too mature to be considered middle grade, but I feel like it's a bit too immature to be considered Young Adult. Neither of these issues are bad things; it's more like the publishing industry is just running out of labels to accurately tell readers where books fall. I think what Natasha Friend has done is created a book that is a perfect fusion of middle grade and YA issues. After reading it, I can see readers in grades 4-9 eating this up! There's a lot of leeway room with this one to reach so many different readers.
Natasha Friends Where You'll Find Me is a remarkable Middle Grade/Young Adult novel that so many different people will be able to enjoy. I can see parents reading this with their children. I can imagine middle schoolers checking it out from the library and devouring it. I can see middle school teachers teaching it in the future. It's a great novel about growing up when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. I would recommend this title to readers in fifth through eighth grades, but I would also recommend it to parents with preteens and young teenagers. It's a beautiful contemporary about how the ugly things in life can turn out to be beautiful, even if they are unexpected.
Natasha Friend is the award-winning author of Perfect, Lush, Bounce, For Keeps, My Life in Black and White, and Where You'll Find Me. When she isn’t writing, she is building forts and making chocolate-chip pancakes. Natasha lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband, three children, and dog, Beckett.