By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
Andersen Press Ltd
'Sonia and I have a lot in common. Our parents are divorced. Our dads are gay. We both love barbecue potato chips. But she is different from me in at least one way: you can't tell how she's feeling just by looking at her. At all.'
When Bea's dad and his wonderful partner, Jesse, decide to marry, it looks as if Bea's biggest wish is coming true: she's finally (finally!) going to have a sister. They're both ten. They're both in fifth grade. Though they've never met, Bea knows that she and Sonia will be perfect sisters. Just like sisters anywhere, Bea thinks. But as the wedding day approaches, Bea makes discoveries that lead her to a possibly disastrous choice. Making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy in this brilliant modern classic by Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead.
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2020 & nominated for the Carnegie Medal.
Ten-year-old Bea has a very loving family - but it's not a straightforward one. Her parents are divorced, and her father has come out as gay. Bea spends part of her time with her mother and the rest with her father and his partner, Jesse. When her parents told her they were separating, they gave Bea a notebook in which she started The List of Things That Will Not Change. Number 1 on the list was 'Mom loves you more than anything, always' and number 2 'Dad loves you more than anything, always', and Bea adds to this list throughout the book.
Bea is secure in the unconditional love of her parents and, at first, seems to be a very well-grounded child. However, we soon learn that Bea worries a great deal about things and she regularly sees a counsellor, Miriam, who helps her with her problems. During these sessions, Miriam gives Bea lots of very useful tips for dealing with her problems.
When Bea's dad, Dan, and Jesse announce that they are going to get married, Bea is both happy and excited. She loves Jesse, and he already has a daughter, Sonia. Bea has never met her but has always wanted a sister, so everything seems perfect. But something happened at her father's lake house last summer which is haunting Bea. She's never told anyone what she did and this is preventing her from dealing with her guilt.
This is a lovely book. Bea is an interesting character, funny and feisty and definitely not perfect! Her ongoing feud with a schoolmate, Carolyn Shattuck, cleverly gives us an insight into Bea's feelings. The book is divided into very short chapters, each a perfect little snapshot of Bea's life, both past and present. Bea also writes letters to her 'sister to be', Sonia, and I found these to be particularly touching - Bea writes quite lengthy letters and receives only postcards in return. The growing relationship between the two girls is beautifully described; Bea is very eager to be friends, while Sonia is more hesitant at first.
Perhaps the most moving part of the book is when Bea tells her counsellor what actually happened at the lake house, and why she is so worried about it. The author very cleverly conceals this twist - I definitely did not see it coming! Bea's confession is sad and shocking but, with Miriam's help, she comes to terms with what she has done.
The wedding of Dan and Jesse all seems to be going off very well until something upsetting and dramatic happens, but there is always a sense of warmth and love which fills the story and ensures that the reader sees that, although things don't always turn out the way you expect, families can pull together and make the best of a difficult situation.
All in all, a very satisfying story, well written and thought-provoking. I'd like a sequel please - I'd love to know what happens to Bea and Sonia next!
224 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+