Five kids form an unlikely friend group at the start of a new school year with surprising results. Lucas is processing his older brother’s death and his mom leaving his dad and him, Robbie is the group goofball with his own challenges, Finn is the walking encyclopedia, Cat is the star athlete, and Anna is the popular girl whose drawn to the group. As the kids play sardines (reverse hide-and-seek), they learn about each other’s most wanted wishes and plot to help each one get them. But when it’s Lucas’s turn, he’s afraid to bare his soul. Can he get past the fear and make his own wish come true?
This one surprised me! I tend to steer clear of depressing stories about death and grief, so I was nervous to read this. Lucas and his dad have a strained relationship because their dad got along better with Lucas’s brother. Lucas’s brother was a star student and beloved by everyone in their town too. Even though they had a pretty wide age gap, he and Lucas also had a sweet relationship. I liked how the author shows the way grief affects individual family members because the entire family had unique reactions to the loss with Lucas’s mom becoming severely depressed.
This was a slice-of-life story, and the reader goes to school with Lucas every day as he builds his new friendship group. Even though the story is told from Lucas’s perspective alone, we truly get to know all the kids well. I liked Anna and Finn the most. Anna’s struggling because her mom barely pays any attention to her because she’s overwhelmed with work is always on her phone. And Finn has a secret of his own despite his seemingly unruffled demeanor. These kids find community with each other and combat everything from bullying to homelessness and loneliness.
Sardines is a heartwarming middle grade novel about friendship, mental health, bullying, identity, and community. This book wins for the author’s ability to accurately capture the middle school experience as five kids form a unique bond of friendship. I also really like the title (and its relevance to the story). If you enjoy audiobooks, this one is great on audio. I enjoyed it and would recommend it especially to fans of books by Gordon Korman (it reminded me a bit of The Fort).