In Alyson Gerber’s sophomore novel, we meet highly motivated Clea. She’s constantly making mental to-do lists, but can’t seem to stay on top of her school work anymore. Her thoughts are always jumping from one thing to another and she finds it hard to focus when she wants to. The only time she can zone out is when she’s playing chess as a member of her school’s chess team.
Clea’s inability to focus starts affecting her grades, which threatens her chess team membership. It also affects her relationships because she finds it harder to control her emotions, blurting out things in the heat of the moment, even after promising she wouldn’t. Other worries in Clea’s life include her little sister who needs to go to speech therapy — Clea worries for her well being and happiness — and her best friend, Red whose family is having issues.
Clea is such a well-developed character. Her voice is unique and jumps out at you from page one. Like Laurie Morrison’s Up for Air and Genesis Begins Again, I knew I’d love this one from PAGE ONE. Clea eventually finds out that she has ADHD and I loved the compassionate, but realistic way the author portrays Clea’s response. Her path to acceptance is tough and she makes many mistakes in her relationship with her best friend, Red.
Yet, you can’t help but root for Clea and all the people in her life, including her sweet little sister. While some may find the therapist sections obviously “teachy,” I enjoyed learning about ADHD in that way. Clea finds out a lot about the condition, the way it’s changed over the years, and learns useful tips for living with it.
Something else I loved was all the chess talk! I don’t know the first thing about playing chess, but this book has made me very curious. I loved reading how much Clea and her chess buddies love the game, and all the tournament scenes were exciting — I didn’t skip a single one!
This isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing, but I definitely think this is also better for upper middle-grade readers and older. There’s kissing between teens — nothing uncomfortable — but just worth noting for younger readers.
Alyson Gerber’s Focused is a moving exploration of a child’s life with ADHD. It deflates stereotypes about the condition and shows just how much effort people with ADHD have to exert to function in a neurotypical world. With an unforgettable voice and strong themes of friendship, family, and crossing over from childhood to teenage years, Focused is a memorable read. I would strongly recommend this one for anyone curious about ADHD, chess lovers, and anyone who’s ever squabbled with a best friend.
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I’m definitely looking forward to reading Gerber’s debut, Braced, about a girl with scoliosis.
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Have you read this book or anything by Alyson Gerber? What did you think? What are your favorite mental health related books? You can check out some of mine here. I’d love to know yours!