You Go First
Maybe you’ve heard of Erin Entrada Kelly? She won a little award called The Newbery last year. And although the winner of last year’s Newbery doesn’t factor at all into this year’s decision, of course it means people are going to pay attention to her newest novel. We, here at Heavy Medal, included.
Ultimately YOU GO FIRST is about two young people, middle schoolers, helping each other to find their voices. They are both afraid and a bit ashamed of their lives. They are both lonely. And although they’ve never met in person, they are able to help each other feel a bit more self-assured and a bit more free.
There is no doubt that Erin Entrada Kelly is a masterful writer, able to weave together stories and make connections between characters. And these two characters are relatable and the reader is really rooting for them. The alternating point of view is effective, and each protagonist feels very real. The pacing is slow, the story gentle, and the character growth realistic.
Somehow, though, I’m still not sure I’d put this at the top of my list. Something about the relationship between our two main characters felt a bit forced. I never believed in their friendship the way I wanted to. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to? Maybe their friendship was always meant to be one of convenience – just a glitch on the path to real life friends? But that feels like a diservice to both of these characters who are so strong and compelling.
I also found the anti-bullying message a little heavy at times.
What do you think?
In either case, the pain of middle school is ever-present in this novel, bringing me back to what is a tumultuous time in most young people’s lives, where friendships are complicated, and self is being defined. It is certainly a wonderful novel that young people will love. Might it be the most distinguished?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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