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Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Way to Bea, written by Kat Yeh. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2017. $22.49 ages 10 and up

"I sit and eat my lunch and Will keeps on drawing and we don't say another word for the rest of the time, but I think that's okay, because I've said more today to this boy in the striped shirt in a few minutes here in the Zen center of the school than I have in any of my classes all year. And for the first time since this summer, I have this funny feeling. I feel like I might belong somewhere."

Have I got a book for you to share in a middle years classroom as you begin a new school year! It concerns family, friendships, poetry, school, and finding yourself in the midst of the muddle that is middle school.

Writing poetry is Bea's way of bringing calm to her body and mind.  Wanting to be inconspicuous after an embarrassing entrance at a back-to-school pool party, she keeps to herself and says little while at school. Her best friend has abandoned her to be with new friends, who are not 'weird' and who share an interest in boys, makeup and other distractions.

Because Bea can no longer write in free verse, as her former self did, she chooses to write haiku in invisible ink. Only a lighted match will make her poetry visible. Bea loves to write haiku. It seems the perfect way to express thoughts in a reliable and unfailing way.

She is so lonely. At home, her parents are busy with thoughts of the new baby's arrival, and their art. Bea spends little time with them. Now that her friendship with Sammie has changed, she feels alone and often flees school when she cannot express how she is feeling about events there.

Lucky she has Mrs. Rodriguez, a kind and caring librarian, who recognizes her love of words and invites her to join the team at the school newspaper. There, she meets Will, Briggs and Jaime. Each exemplifies a new kind of friend for Bea. Briggs has great respect for her work, and welcomes her as an important member to their team. Jaime is friendly, happy and eager to be work with Bea. Will is obsessed with labyrinths and lists, and learning about people.

Wanting to be a friend to Will, after spending many lunch hours with him, Bea makes a plan to show him how to get into the famous Leland Labyrinth.  Knowing the wealthy owner will not allow visitors, they hatch a plan to visit while no one is there. Best laid plans do not always work as they should. In dealing with unexpected events, Bea learns a great deal about herself and who she wants to 'bea'.

Bea's first person narrative is raw and full of discovery as she negotiates the puzzle that is real friendship and self-discovery. Not fitting in is a painful part of life for many middle schoolers. Reading this book will help them relate to Bea's brilliant and moving character, and perhaps recognize themselves within her story.

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