Mira Levenson isn't as excited about turning 12 as she had hoped. Sure, she finally got a cell phone. But her beloved Nana Josie is dying of cancer. She ordered a casket to paint and it's delivered in the midst of Mira's birthday party. Then, she gets her period for the first time. Also on her birthday. She doesn't want to tell her mom (because she'll make a big deal out of it) and her best friend Millie (because she'll get a ton of questions). For the first time, she is keeping a secret ... and feeling more self-conscious than ever. Especially around the always glib Jidé Jackson.
To her surprise, Jidé and his best friend Ben Gbemi join her and Millie in Literature Club, a before-school group led by visiting author Pat Print. Turns out they are the only four members! In the writing group and through the assignments Pat Print gives them, Mira starts to express herself with more confidence. Through her classmates' writings, she begins to learn not just about their personal stories, but more about the world.
I would have devoured this book in middle grade, and I did the same as an adult. Mira's narration has the perfect pitch for a young girl developing into a woman. The fears, the shifting moods, budding hormones, the push-pull of still wanting to be kid-ish and yet wanting to grow up, too.
This is Mira's story, but Nana Josie takes center stage. She is cool, stoic, strong, and a major reason I love the book. Josie offers a strong female presence and while hers is a story of death, it is refreshing in its presentation. The author neither sugar coats Nana's hospice experience, nor does she try to create "false humor" in an attempt to keep the story light. On the whole, the Levenson family is realistically portrayed. I like how Mira's parents and siblings each had space in the story to grieve in their own way for Nana Josie.
Pat Print, the other strong female role model, added a lovely non-family perspective to Mira's journey and sense of being. Last, I thought Mira's friendships with Millie and Jidé were healthy and wholesome. Millie was a life-long friend, yet you could see the relationship changing. Her budding romance with Jidé unfolds nicely. It is awkward and a bit corny at times, but that doesn't mean it isn't realistic.
Yes, the story has sad moments; yes, you will likely shed a few tears; and yes, you will be really glad you read this book. Then you'll rush to find someone to share it with!
NOTE: This book was previously called Artichoke Hearts. The name has relevance to the story and you may see reviews referencing that title. It is the same book.
Mira is a wonderful narrator who shares a story that is vivid, poignant, realistic, and hopeful.
Nana Lisa is dying of cancer. Mira has her first period and uses direct, realistic language to describe her experience. Not gory, but some young readers may not be comfortable - or ready - for this discussion.
This is a realistic, first-person story about a young girl who is navigating the impending death of her grandmother, puberty, and figuring out who she is.
This is a coming-of-age story. Although it will be pegged as a "book for girls," the story's themes of struggling to grow up, loss of beloved family members, and life changes have nothing to do with gender.
11 and Up
10 and Up
Buy for preteens who like character-driven stories and have family members who are ill.