I highly recommend Sue Halpern's Introducing Sasha Abramowitz.
I had not read any advance reviews of this novel when I checked it out from the library on Saturday. I had heard the name Sue Halpern before and some research explained why. She is the author of several adult titles (The Book of Hard Things, Migrations of Solitude) and she writes reviews for The New York Review of Books amongst other papers, magazines, and journals.
In any case, I chose this book based on target audience (middle grade). I picked it up Sunday afternoon and could not stop reading! It is a fantastic book and here are some reasons why:
- The narrator's voice is completely authentic. Sasha Abramowitz is an eleven-year-old girl who lives with her academic parents in the dorms, while her older brother Daniel attends a boarding school/institution for children with mental disorders. Sasha speaks just like any intelligent pre-teen girl would. She sounds, in fact, just like my daughter. Halpern uses first-person narration and Sasha never comes off as too adult or too snarky. She's not a perfect kid, just a decent one making sense of her world.
- Daniel's mental illness (specifics are not revealed until halfway through the novel, so I won't spoil it for you) is treated by Sasha in a completely realistic way and by the author in a humane, complex manner. The book never becomes preachy or "issue-oriented." Daniel is simply a part of Sasha's story, something she must understand in order to mature.
- Sasha's relationship with her friends is the most true depiction of preteen relationships I've ever seen in a book. Sasha is inexplicably jealous at times when all kids are jealous, but she can't articulate why. Also, her friends, who occasionally hurt her, don't understand when or why they've inflicted pain. Again, I see the same dynamics in my daughter's relationships with her friends.
- The adults are a riot. True, I teach at a small college so the parents resemble many people I know (and, overall, characterization is positive).
- Harriet the Spy plays an important literary role in this novel. Enough said.
This novel surprised me and took my breath away. It is one of the best examples of first person narration I've ever seen in a middle-grade novel.