MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari



Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?

Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.


Growing up is an experience that I wouldn't want to have again.  Books like this one bring back so many of those memories, both good and bad.  While I didn't have a sibling with an eating disorder, I did have a friend that I lost during those years because of changing interests.  Emily doesn't want her life to change.  She doesn't like the fact that her sister had to go to an eating disorder treatment facility.  She doesn't like the fact that her father left and now has an Alice in his life. But most of all, she doesn't want her friendship with Hazel to change.  And yet all of those things are happening.  Middle school can be a very confusing time and Maschari has captured that very well.  Emily doesn't really know where she fits at home or at school and she doesn't feel like anyone listens to her.  Her efforts to fit in with Hazel's new friends fizzle every time and Emily resents the attention her sister gets when she comes home.  After ordering a set of self-help CDs, Emily sets out to become the girl she wants to be.  But who is that exactly?  

Maschari does a great job of creating a character that is easy to relate to, one who wants to be popular and fit in with Hazel and the other field hockey girls, but who also wants to be herself.  She finds herself clinging to the old while being drawn to the new; new friends, new interests, and shifting relationships.  Emily's relationships felt genuine and reminded me of some of the relationships I've had over the years.  I have no doubt that young readers will find much to relate to as well.  The underlying themes are presented well with relationships being at the heart of it all.  Recommended for young readers who enjoy seeing themselves in what they read or those who are looking for windows into the experiences of those who are different.



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