Summary: What Happened to Rachel Riley?
When Anna Hunt moves from Chicago to Wisconsin for her mother’s new job, she soon realizes that something’s off about her new eighth-grade class. One student, Rachel Riley, who was once popular is now treated as a social pariah. So when their English teacher assigns them an un-essay — which is an exploration of a topic in any other format besides an essay — Anna decides to investigate the question: What happened to Rachel Riley? Of course, the teacher rejects Anna’s topic despite her lawyer mom’s protests. But with some hesitant help from Rachel and some other schoolmates, Anna pieces together the mystery.
This was so fun and unique! The story is told in multiple formats, including prose, e-mails, letters (mostly to Anna’s Polish grandmother), text messages, and podcast episodes. First off, I LOVED Anna. She’s clever and gutsy and the perfect person to figure out the case. But she’s also just an eighth-grader who gets confused when boys pull at her bra straps in the hallways and in class. Thankfully, she has remarkably supportive parents and a computer-whiz sister who help her out when the going gets tough.
Another cool thing about this story is that it’s told from multiple perspectives, including Rachel’s and some other classmates’ so we really get a well-rounded look at the plot. This is a strong mystery and I couldn’t figure out the entire tale until it was all revealed. It’s also a thick book at over 300 pages but that’s mostly because of the different formats in which it’s written. There are also some musings about social media and how it impacts kids these days.
Overall: What Happened to Rachel Riley?
What Happened to Rachel Riley? is a stellar middle grade mystery about sexual harassment, creativity, and standing up for something. This book truly shines for the author’s creative, yet accessible storytelling and characterization. The characters feel well-drawn, relatable, and inspirational all at once. I wanted to be a part of Anna’s family and also be Rachel’s friend. This is Swinarski at her finest and I wholeheartedly recommend this book.