Summary: It All Begins With Jelly Beans
I’ve been meaning to read It All begins with Jelly Beans since I saw a friend’s review of the UK version, Sick Bay.
Meg and Riley’s lives change when the two girls meet at the nurse’s office and bond over jelly beans. But the road to friendship isn’t without bumps. Meg’s mom has not been herself since Meg’s father died. She hardly gets out of bed and can’t hold a job or do food shopping. Meg wears slippers to school and a ratty t-shirt. Riley on the other hand has Type 1 Diabetes and has an insulin pump. She also has to check her sugar and track how much sugar she’s consuming so that her pump can supply enough insulin for her needs.
Meg’s only friend, Ellie ditched her for the popular crew, which Riley is now a part of, since she was embraced when she joined the school as a new girl. But Riley quickly begins to realize that the group’s queen bee, Lina, isn’t so welcoming — or good for Riley. Especially when Riley can’t always come to sleepovers or ditch school for sweet treats. Plus, when Meg and Riley begin a tentative friendship, Lina is not pleased. Will their budding friendship survive?
I really liked this story. It’s set in Australia and that shows both in the language and in the fact that the girls are in elementary school, moving into “Junior High.” The language also reflects that, as well as certain terms used. Regardless, this book is very appealing in the way it portrays a blossoming, unlikely friendship. Meg and Riley are very different, but share the same desire to fit in, even though they express it in different ways.
I also liked the diversity in terms of mental health rep and disability. Meg has severe anxiety and her mother is depressed. Riley is diabetic, but determined to show her overprotective mother that she can take care of herself, despite having made some poor choices in the past. With Lina and the girls, this book also touches on bullying and peer pressure and the ways it can affect kids, especially when it isn’t so overt.
Meg’s home situation is tough, but this author is great at adding levity to a difficult situation, so somehow things don’t feel so hard on the page. Also, in Riley’s home, while there’s a struggle to help her mom understand her, their family is definitely not hurting as much, which adds refreshing variety. Finally, this story is told from both Meg and Riley’s perspectives, which is always fun to read.
Overall: It All Begins With Jelly Beans
It All Begins with Jelly Beans is a sensitive middle grade book about unlikely friendships, living with Type 1 Diabetes, and coping with the loss of a parent. Set in Australia, this book also features a main character with anxiety, tackles bullying, and is written from the perspective of two narrators. This heartwarming story of connection and finding one’s voice makes for a satisfying read.
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