Mock Newbery Nominee: Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

by on December 6th, 2017
Mock Newbery Nominee: Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail Cover Image

I hope you’re ready for the second installment of our Mock Newbery summaries and reviews. Does Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail have what it takes to get your vote? This is my take on this funny, and  yes, awkward coming-of-age story.

Summary: Being thirteen is hard enough, but Gracie has the extra baggage of an older sister who died before she was born. With her parents always trying to spare Gracie unhappiness, she has learned to pretend she’s fine, even when that’s far from the truth. When Gracie finds out A.J., her shy crush, likes her beautiful best friend Sienna, she does her best to push aside her disappointment. She even helps Sienna flirt with A.J. via text message. And she tries not to let her other best friend Emmett know what’s really bothering her. Misunderstandings and mean girls create drama, but it is dealing with the grief that has touched her family, that Gracie learns her true worth.

Middle school is such a hard time for most of us, with the wild swinging of emotions and tangles of social life. Vail perfectly captures those out-sized excitements and disappointments that populate the middle school years. Taking inspiration from Cyrano de Bergerac, the classic play about love and hidden identity, she adds a second layer of mistaken identity and a much sweeter finale for Gracie, and one that will certainly appeal to the intended audience. Vail is also speaking the language of middle school as she includes text transcripts throughout, adding authenticity to the presentation. Most of the named characters were realistically rounded out and believable, though mean girl Riley is just a bit lacking in complex motivations. Gracie’s own sense of humor provides plenty of chances to play with language. My favorite example, from page 171:

“Me (as Sienna): me too! my favorite kind of lakes:
1. great
2. cornf
AJ: Hahahaha
3. Frostedf”

The theme of finding ways to deal with loss and disappointment is strong throughout, with particularly poignant moments between Gracie and her parents. This book includes plenty of moments that will make you smile, as well as a few that might make you tear up.

If you’re ready to vote, visit our Kid’s Page before January 31st to make your selections, or stay tuned next week for another summary and review if you haven’t read all the nominees.

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