Summary: Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone
Tae Keller’s newest middle grade book, Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, opens with new girl Jennifer Chan declared missing at her middle school. As whispers begin, her next-door neighbor Mallory Moss worries that Jennifer may have been abducted by aliens (which Jennifer believed existed). Mallory reunites with two former friends begging them to help her find Jennifer following clues from her time with Jennifer and the diary Jennifer left behind. The story alternates between past and present as readers discover that Mallory’s search is also motivated by an ulterior motive: the need to prove that she and her popular friends didn’t run Jennifer Chan out of town with their bullying.
This was a gripping mystery with a haunting opening line. Keller does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers in the “Now” and “Then” chapters that show us how Jennifer and Mallory became friends and how things fell apart. This format allows us to follow Mallory in real-time as she tries to figure out Jennifer’s whereabouts.
At its core, this story is about bullying, why some kids bully others, and why others become silent bystanders. I loved getting to know so many of the characters well, even though this story was written from Mallory’s perspective. Jennifer’s belief in aliens is powerful in what it represents — a need to be understood and not alone in the world. Jennifer would’ve benefited from some emotional (and perhaps mental health) support after her father’s death.
I loved seeing Mallory grapple with what it means to be a good person vs. a bad person. It was insightful to see her thoughts about her toxic friendship with the popular girl, Reagan, and get a closer look at other characters like Tess and other kids at school. Overall, this is one of those stories you simply need to experience for yourself.
Overall: Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone is a razor-sharp, realistic portrayal of kids mismanaging their insecurities and coping by bullying others. Keller does a brilliant job of highlighting how uncomfortable it can feel to be unsure of yourself when someone else seems so comfortable and even proud of their quirks. Besides bullying and toxic friendships, this book also delves into race and microaggressions concerning how Asians are often lumped together. This is another stellar work by Tae Keller that will resonate with kids and adults trying to be themselves and find their people.