Summary: Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
In Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen, Maple’s dreams of going to middle school with her best friends come crashing down when she’s held back in the fifth grade because she can’t read. Maple is Indian and Jewish (Hin-Jew as she calls herself) and constantly feels caught in between — never fully belonging on one side. On top of that, Maple gets caught in a web of lies when she tells a new fifth grader that she’s only in the class to support the new kids — and not because she’s a repeater. It doesn’t help that her friends Marigold and Aislin totally dump her because she didn’t move on to a new class with them. Can Maple find her place in the world?
I really liked this story. Maple loves books and listening to stories. She’s even recording a story of her own on a voice recorder, so it’s terribly frustrating for her to not be able to read. Over time, she’s evaded her teachers by pretending to know how to read following contextual clues or avoiding needing to read out loud. But now, she’s been caught — and thankfully so.
As Maple’s dyslexia comes to light, she begins working with a reading specialist in the school — which she’s very resistant to. I thought her response to the reading specialist was highly realistic, as well as her frustration with the fact that these things take time. I also liked seeing Maple’s home life and how her parents handled her being held back.
Finally, Maple’s big lie becomes stressful to keep up — as expected — and her challenges with old and new friends made my heart ache for her. Still, I loved watching her figure things out for herself and come to a place of growth and acceptance.
Overall: Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen is a realistic middle grade book about dealing with the social and emotional impact of learning difficulties like dyslexia. This book also tackles the cultural straddling of being biracial, as well as coping with friendship evolution, bullying, and being held back in school. Ultimately, this is a story about a girl who loves words, stories, and writing and kids who enjoy those things will love this book. Although the protagonist is in the fifth grade (again), I think this is still a great pick — content wise — for middle schoolers.
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I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.