Summary: Dear Student
In Dear Student, socially anxious sixth-grader Autumn is having a rough start to middle school. Her best friend Prisha has moved to California and her father has left their family to serve in the Peace Corps in Ecuador (I know, I know). It’s just her mother and little sister living in their tiny apartment up the stairs of the veterinary hospital where her mother works.
Somehow, she makes two new friends in the first week of school — one boy named Cooper and a girl named Logan. But Logan thinks Cooper is weird, so Autumn has to navigate the fact that her friends don’t get along. On top of that, she really wants to write for the Dear Student column in her school’s newspaper — and she does! But when Autumn gives advice that polarizes her friends even more, she’s not sure how she’ll ever make it work.
I really liked Autumn and I could relate to her social anxiety. Her mom was a great parent juggling her job and her kids even after being ditched by her husband — who by the way is a lousy parent and I’m glad that Autumn knows that by the end of the book. I was annoyed by his actions and found him irredeemable at the end. Still, this kind of behavior (parents having a midlife crisis) is featuring more in middle grade books, which I appreciate because it is some kids’ reality. In Sumner’s One Kid’s Trash, a parent uproots his family and leaves his cushy job to become a ski instructor. But that’s way better than ditching your family for “the greater good.”
I wish we’d seen more Dear Student content, which I really enjoyed. I loved seeing Autumn answer student’s questions with so much heart and forethought. She definitely had an interesting relationship with Logan and a good friendship with Cooper and I liked seeing the author dissect the friendship issues in each relationship. Also Autumn has a pet guinea pig, Cooper has a dog, and Logan has a pet snake. When you add the animals at the vet (including an iguana the kids find), there’s a lot of animals in this story.
Finally, the activism subplot of this book raises a basic question for me. Do animals matter more than humans? I love animals and believe they shouldn’t be tortured or cruelly tested upon, but I couldn’t help but wonder if some people veer a bit into an unhealthy preference of animals over people. Still, I liked the varying perspectives and the resolution in the story.
Overall: Dear Student
Dear Student is a true-to-life examination of social anxiety and how hard it can be to figure out who is truly a good friend. This slice-of-life story touches on several topics from animal cruelty and activism, to a writer protagonist who manages anxiety by writing, and a friend whose family is in a different socio-economic class with differing concerns than his peers. If you like stories with sweet sister duos and plenty of animals — furry and non-furry, you’ll enjoy this one.