Summary: Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai is the companion title to fan favorite, Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. Jenna and Keiko have remained BFFs after their fall out with Audrey. But Jenna is having a hard time with several life issues. For one, she and her boyfriend have just broken up (but she’s still stuck in the same school newspaper as he is) and now her parents are divorcing.
Jenna is coping by keeping her feelings shut in and brooding a lot — until she begins to write an investigative piece for the school newspaper contest. She also starts hanging out at a cute Broadway-themed Diner where she meets a schoolmate Rin Watanabe with whom she argues a lot but begins a tentative friendship. Can Jenna find time for all the things in her life, while addressing her hurt feelings and opening up to those who love her?
I loved this book! As much as I adored Keiko’s story, I think I enjoyed Jenna’s even more. Jenna is stubborn and angry all the time (as expected for someone who never talks about their hard emotions). But she’s also a strong writer, a good friend, and an artist. I loved reading about her friendship with Keiko and seeing Keiko through her eyes, especially since we already know Keiko fairly well.
Jenna and Elliot’s breakup is also dissected a bit and we get to see why it happened, as well as follow her budding relationship with Rin. We also enjoy a peek at Rin’s life and his own struggles. My favorite scenes were those at the diner with Jenna and Rin, and I also liked checking in on Keiko and Connor.
Central to the story, however, is Jenna’s emotions around her parents’ divorce and how some parents can make the separation harder for their kids by failing to maintain a somewhat amicable relationship. Jenna feels a lot of anxiety because of her mother’s approach towards the divorce and her father distancing himself as a result. It was so moving to see how she worked everything out and came to a place of acceptance.
Overall: Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai is a compulsively-readable middle grade release, perfect for fans of upper middle grade stories. This realistic contemporary novel handles tough themes like the process and reality of parental divorce, a tween experiencing the fall-out of a breakup, kids managing busy school schedules, and keeping bonds of friendship alive. It also highlights the value of vulnerability and how powerful it can be to open one’s heart to the affections of others. I loved this one, and can’t wait to read whatever Debbi Michiko Florence writes next.