Summary: Serena Says by Tanita S. Davis
Serena Says was high on my list of anticipated middle-grade books this fall. It was also the first time I read anything by author Tanita Davis. Serena’s best friend JC has to take a break from school for a kidney transplant, and Serena is looking forward to visiting her in the hospital after the surgery, as school ambassador. But when she catches a cold, her hopes are deflated as another girl Lani is sent instead of her. After the visit, Serena notices that Lani and JC have developed a friendship, and her relationship with JC seems to have diminished in intensity.
Eventually Serena steps down from her role as ambassador because she is unable to share the role with Lani like the school wants her to. The school then puts her on the school senate (probably to make up for her not being ambassador anymore) where they work on a group project about Egypt. In the meantime, Serena is working to start vlogging on YouTube where she shares her life with her viewers. Her sister, Fallon is a camera aficionado and helps her with the process. Throughout the story, Serena works on finding a good place in her friendship with JC while balancing working with Lani, Harrison, Cameron, and the other kids in her school and senate.
I liked this book a lot. It’s a slice-of-life story, so it did feel a bit mundane and lacking in action for me in some places, but I liked reading about Serena’s life. I actually listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Imani Parks was excellent. Serena’s relationship with her family, especially her sister Fallon was heartwarming to read. The girls have the usual sibling bickering, but obviously love each other. Her mom is a psychiatrist, and it was refreshing to read about a well-to-do family, with an ethnically diverse cast where race wasn’t a massive theme (although there is a place for such books). JC is half Filipina so there’s also mention of Filipino culture.
A side character’s sibling has bipolar disorder, so there’s also discussion on mental illness, stigma, and the impact on families — all of which is tastefully done. I didn’t love the YouTube bits too much, but I think many tweens are getting into YouTube and may enjoy reading about it. The Amelia Six and Tami Charles Definitely Daphne series are some other books with tweens who vlog or run a YouTube channel. The central theme in this book is changing friendships, and the author does a fantastic job of highlighting that friendships evolve, and that a change in pace doesn’t have to mean the end of the friendship.
Overall: Serena Says
Serena Says is a relatable, enjoyable middle-grade book about evolving friendships, sisterhood, and gaining confidence in oneself. With nods to ethnic diversity and mental illness awareness, this slice-of-life middle-grade book is fun to read, and features a cast of memorable characters in a middle school setting. If you enjoy middle-grade books by Black authors or books about sisters, you will definitely love this one. Bonus points if you enjoy audiobooks, because this one is terrific.
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Have you read this book or anything by Tanita S. Davis? I’ve heard great things about A La Carte! It’s on my TBR. Which other middle-grade books have you read that feature vloggers?