From the author of A Good Kind of Trouble, a Walter Dean Myers Honor Book, comes another unforgettable story about finding your voice—and finding your people. Perfect for fans of Sharon Draper, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds.
Eleven-year-old Jenae doesn’t have any friends—and she’s just fine with that. She’s so good at being invisible in school, it’s almost like she has a superpower, like her idol, Astrid Dane. At home, Jenae has plenty of company, like her no-nonsense mama; her older brother, Malcolm, who is home from college after a basketball injury; and her beloved grandpa, Gee.
Then a new student shows up at school—a boy named Aubrey with fiery red hair and a smile that won’t quit. Jenae can’t figure out why he keeps popping up everywhere she goes. The more she tries to push him away, the more he seems determined to be her friend. Despite herself, Jenae starts getting used to having him around.
But when the two are paired up for a class debate about the proposed name change for their school, Jenae knows this new friendship has an expiration date. Aubrey is desperate to win and earn a coveted spot on the debate team.
There’s just one problem: Jenae would do almost anything to avoid speaking up in front of an audience—including risking the first real friendship she’s ever had.
After enjoying the authors debut so much, I had to pick up her next book. It follows a young girl who has difficulties finding and expressing her voice and making friends. She’s comfortable being invisible and she’d rather stay that way. But she meets a new kid in her class who’s determined to be her friend and all of a sudden, she’s not so invisible anymore. She’s challenged out of her comfort zone.
I always admire and respect how the author incorporates important historical events and themes in her stories and have the kids play some form of a role in that. Their character development forms around it and it intertwines nicely, giving the kids a voice and power.
I’ll definitely be reading more of books as and when she releases them.
Richie’s Picks: SOMETHING TO SAY by Lisa Moore Ramée, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, July 2020, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-06-283671-7
“Here’s the big not-so-secret: Kids know what is going on. They also have the capacity to be deeply upset by it. What we might call ‘social justice’ boils down to what kids would call ‘fairness.’ As any parent knows, kids are keenly aware of who gets more cookies or less praise; studies tell us those as young as 15 months understand equitable treatment. Social issues like racism, sexism and classism are complex, but underlying them are simple concepts that kids can relate to and be moved by.” -- Caroline Paul, “Activism isn’t just for adults and teens. We need to teach younger kids to be activists, too.” ideas.ted.com (7/2/18)
“With a lot of blacks, there's quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can't all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” -- actor John Wayne, the Playboy interview (1971)
“At that time, not only were schools segregated but also other public places as well, such as pools, parks, and movie theaters. Some businesses even had signs that read, ‘NO DOGS OR MEXICANS ALLOWED.’” -- from the picturebook, SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL: SYLVIA MENDEZ & HER FAMILY’S FIGHT FOR DESEGREGATION by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014
“I hold my phone out and take a selfie. My first one. I get the vest I made out of the closet and put it on, then sling my clock bag over my shoulder and take some more acting like I’m cool like Astrid and that’s when my door opens. ‘Dude,’ Malcolm says. ‘You are seriously tripping.’ Right behind Malcolm is Aubrey. No way. No way is this flaming-hot-Cheeto-hair boy up here in my room. ‘What are you doing here?’ I ask, letting my bag slide off my shoulder and onto the floor. ‘How do you know where I live?’ Aubrey’s so fair, it’s easy to see the blush exploding all over his face like a bucket of red paint got tipped over his head. It makes his freckles stand out even more. ‘I sort of...followed you?’ He glances over at Malcolm and I’m sure Aubrey’s thinking that following a girl home is at the top of things her big brother might beat him up for.”
Meet eleven-year-olds Jenae and Aubrey, the duo who have something to say in this easy-to-love tale of friendship and activism. Jenae is a quiet black girl who does her best to stay under the radar. But from the first day of junior high, she somehow attracts the attention of the ever-smiling, enthusiastic, Aubrey. He’s a new kid in town and a fellow aficionado of Jenae’s favorite YouTube show, Astrid Dane.
Also, since the beginning of the school year, there has been a community debate over changing the name of their school from John Wayne Junior High to Sylvia Mendez Junior High. Aubrey and Jenae will end up learning a lot about these two historical figures when they pair up and choose the topic of the proposed school name change for an English class debate assignment. The only problem is that Jenae hates public speaking. She has no intention of standing up in front of the class. She comes up with a scheme to ditch school that day by deceiving both of her divorced parents, despite knowing that it will betray Aubrey, her one friend.
Over the years, the composition of the southern California community that named the school after John Wayne has changed. So has the community’s tolerance for white supremacists. Jenae’s grandfather has told her how their southern California community was once all white, but when a black movie star moved in, white flight gave him the opportunity to purchase the spiffy old mansion that Jenae and her mom share with him.
Jenae’s brother had been away at college until a serious knee injury ended his basketball career. Now, after surgery, Malcolm is convalescing at home, supposedly figuring out an alternate plan.
When their grandfather Gee suffers a severe stroke and stops speaking, Jenae rises to the occasion, devising ways to help him begin to recover. It’s a challenge, but the pair figure out some workable communication strategies.
Jenae and Aubrey are wonderful characters. It’s delightful to see them learning to express their needs to one another.
Given current events, the activist-driven community debate over the name of the school will make this a perfectly timed read for the summer or the beginning of the new school year.
For such a short middle grade novel, this one addressed several deep topics. Eleven-year-old Jenae thinks she possesses the power to do things to others without even touching them. She is certain she’s the reason her brother is injured, the reason her grandfather is ill, and she’s even sure her powers will allow her to manipulate her teacher into not giving an assignment she hates. But ultimately, the story isn’t really about a magical gift at all. It’s a story of family love and devotion, a story of fear and vulnerability, and a story that encourages the reader to look at all sides of an issue before holding so tightly to only one opinion. I adore Jenae’s friend, Aubrey. He’s this sweet, devoted, and yet awkward new kid who has latched onto Jenae. He is doing everything in his power to be kind, supportive, and inclusive. But Jenae won’t have it. Many young readers will identify with her fear of being truly seen — and the fear of rejection. And personally, as a performer who has suffered from stage fright more times than I care to admit, Lisa Moore Ramée nailed the emotional and physical exhaustion of confronting those horrific situations. My thanks to Libro.fm for providing me this audiobook so that I could review it on my blog and on Goodreads.
For more children's literature, middle grade literature, and YA literature reviews, feel free to visit my personal blog at The Miller Memo!
This book has some charming elements, but ultimately fell flat for me. I think that if it had been shorter, I would have liked it more, because I enjoyed the tension in the narrative, the interesting characters, the portrayal of dealing with a grandparent's aging, and the unusually nuanced exploration of renaming a school. However, the book began to drag on, and the main character's poor choices were hard to endure for such a long period of time. She never faces significant consequences for meddling in her brother's love life, and even though her anxiety about public speaking is understandable, her unkindness to her friend and project partner was hard to take.
What bothered me the most about this book is a bit of a spoiler. It doesn't give away the plot, but it relates to a significant part of Jenae's character arc, so I'm giving advance warning and hiding the detail in case someone wants to be completely surprised.
I am sure that the author did not mean to send a problematic message to her readers, but I found this storytelling decision very odd, because it undercut Jenae's character growth and assumes that all readers have the ability to discern that this is just a quirk of hers, and not something that they should imitate. Kids who have similar anxiety issues may take the wrong message away from this, and even if they don't, the book certainly does not suggest an appropriate response or healthy coping strategies.
Very good messages here about what it means to be a friend, with a little social activism on the side. The John Wayne vs. Sylvia Mendez debate was very well done. I'm glad to see Sylvia Mendez getting some more mainstream mentions. If students are interested in reading more about her after they finish this book, I recommend Sylvia & Aki. Recommended for grades 4 & up.
After reading A Good Kind of Trouble, I was excited to pick up Something to Say, since they're by the same Author. And I'm glad to say that I wasn't disappointed! I really related to Jenae and her struggles with public speaking and (what I consider to be) social anxiety. Her love for the (fictional) cartoon Astrid Dane made me jealous that it wasn't a real show that I could watch. Her struggles and the mistakes that she makes during the book felt very real for a girl her age. My favorite thing about the book was probably the character of Aubrey. His bright personality and exuberant attitude made him easily the most enjoyable part of the book. I also think this book could help start some important conversations. In the book the school that Jenae and Aubrey attend is up for a proposed name change. The Author did a wonderful job covering this topic, and I found it particularly timely considering all the things that have happened in 2020. ⚠️Spoilers for Something to Say⚠️ Now to get into a spoilery territory. This book took me a bit to get through, because of some stuff that happens in it. The Grandpa in the book (Gee) ends up suffering from a stroke, which was hard for me to read. Strokes/seizures tend to be a sensitive topic for me. As soon as the Grandpa started acting slightly off, I knew what was going to happen. I'm only mentioning this, because I'm proud of myself for being able to read it without getting triggered like I normally would. I'm glad that I was able to, since I ended up really enjoying the book.
⚠️End of spoilers ⚠️
I plan on keeping an eye on this Author, and will most likely pick up anything else she writes. 5/5 stars!
I thought this was a great middle-grade novel that I still fully enjoyed as an adult. The main character really spoke to me, as another person who feels like they might *literally* die if forced to speak in front of a group, and it has lots of other timely themes to it today that I think will resonate with kids.
I really waffled between giving this book 2 or 3 stars - it would really be more like a 2.5.
There were some good things about this book, but overall there were a number of things that bothered me quite a lot and hindered my enjoyment of it. Jenae is a 7th grader who has no friends. And she more or less likes it that way. She suffers from crippling social anxiety, as well as extreme anxiety about public speaking. So 7th grade gets really tough when a kid named Aubrey comes along who insists on being her friend - as well as her debate partner for a mandatory speech in English class.
I felt for Jenae. I really did. But I spent a lot of the time being mad at the adults in this novel because they didn't seem to care about or do anything about the issues she has. Her mom was almost always chastising the kids for something or other. She doesn't like the fact that Jenae watches a show called Astrid Dane, even though the character seems to be inspiring to Jenae (and mutual love for the show is the reason why she actually makes a friend at all, something her mom keeps harping on her to do). Jenae hasn't had a friend for years - instead of just blaming your daughter for it, have you tried to understand it? Considered therapy? Talked to the school? Other weird things seemed to happen in the family as well. They have a big family dinner every Friday night and one night she took a nap and the family never woke her up to join them and she slept through the whole thing.
Speaking of school, Jenae has a really hard time with public speaking. And I totally get that because many kids struggle with it and have that anxiety. The teacher didn't seem to do anything to help with this aspect of public speaking. In fact, he kind of made it worse by having them present their speeches in front of a big auditorium and inviting other classes to see the speeches so there was a very large audience. Having worked with kids who need to do presentations, this is definitely something we would spend time on - and something I would certainly put more effort into if I had a student suffering the way that Jenae was.
There is also a bizarre element to the story where Jenae thinks she has mind control powers. She really, truly believes that if she thinks something hard enough, it comes true - whether she means to or not. As a result she honestly believes that she personally is responsible for her brother's injury that means he can't play college basketball, for What?? Can you imagine the guilt a 12/13 year old is walking around with believing this? Even when she confesses this is how she feels to several people, including her mother, they mostly just laugh or brush it off. It seems like this is doing some major harm to her mental health and it really saddened me to see how people reacted to it.
The strongest element of the book is the actual debate topic that Jenae and Aubrey focus on. Her school is named after John Wayne, but there is a petition to change the name. A group of people want to name the school after Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights activist and a Mexican American who as a girl found her parents fighting to attend a "white" school. At first Jenae feels indifferent on the topic or doesn't understand, but as the book continues and she learns more she becomes more passionate about the name change. I really liked the way this topic was handled in a way that was approachable for kids but still indicated how important it was.
I think this book had a lot of potential but the issues I mentioned above just felt very detrimental to the story as a whole. Aubrey was a great character and a great friend but I still would have liked to see Jenae have a better support system.
I listened to this one on audiobook and enjoyed the narration.
I enjoyed this book a lot, they gave a lot of the characters depth and no part of the book I really got bored during. Decided to read it to try something new and be able to say that I’ve recently read something.
I think that since the redheaded boy ( I forgot his name), really added to the story especially since he had cancer and he was a fun character to explore. There was more added to the book, in my opinion, when he acted upset. So out of character for him and I think that really added to the story…. <3
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Charming Characters and Compelling Plot--Highly Recommend!
SOMETHING TO SAY by Lisa Moore Ramée is such a lovely multi-generational story with a focus on family and friends. Eleven-year-old Jenae may be a loner by choice, but new kid Aubrey refuses to get that message. Nothing's going to stop him from being her friend. And she can't help but be drawn to his outgoing and upbeat personality.
I'm so smitten with Aubrey. He's such a genuine, caring human. And Jenae is so earnest and worried--over her brother, her grandfather, her school. They are two of my favorite characters ever.
Books by Ramée are like that. Her characters are real and delightful. It makes me happy to settle into whatever world she decides to create for her readers. SOMETHING TO SAY really does have something to say, about being a good friend family member, about overcoming fears, and about coping with bad things.
I'm quite sure that other readers will fall in love with this novel. I already was a fan of Ramée's. Her debut novel, A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE, was a triumph with fabulous characters and an important topic (Black Lives Matter). Now, in SOMETHING TO SAY, I've found a whole new cast of characters to fall in love with. Can't wait for her next book!
So far, I've loved everything written by Lisa Moore Ramee. She really writes in a way that seems to understand middle grade kids who are just starting to get comfortable in their skin and she paints characters that are awesome but humanly flawed. The adults around them aren't always easy, but they're not fake either.
And.... I just really enjoyed it and could see this building empathy within kids who don't necessarily struggle with feeling weird or left out or crippling anxiety.
I was a huge fan of Lisa Moore Ramee's debut, A Good Kind of Trouble, and this follow up does not disappoint. Painfully shy Jenae resists the friendship advances of a somewhat weird kid at her new middle school, but when they're paired together for a debate assignment, she'll have to face her fear of public speaking. I loved the character development in this one and the slow burn friendship that eventually blossoms between the two main characters. Hand this one to fans of Merci Suarez Changes Gears or My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich
I loved the author's first book and couldn't put it down. I liked the first few chapters of this one, but I was able to put it down. I would not mind coming back to it sometime, although I'm conflicted about the John Wayne plot. I have complicated feelings about John Wayne- I get that he said offensive things, but his movies were a big part of my childhood.
Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.
There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.
Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.
Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Seventh grader Jenae does everything in her power to not just blend in at school and, at times, her own home, but to remain absolutely invisible. She has no friends and has debilitating social anxiety. A newcomer to her Los Angeles area town, an impossible oral presentation assignment, and a debate over changing the name of her school all combine to help Jenae be a bit more visible. “Something to Say” provides readers with advice on being a friend, speaking up for what you believe in, and living in a multi-generational home plus throws in valuable information about Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight to integrate California schools. Many students in grades 4-7 will be drawn to the comfortable themes of friendship and being strong in your beliefs and with the wide array of skin colors in this book, most will see someone who looks like them. Unfortunately, my heart yearned for someone to reach out to Jenae and be a support for her, to get her the help she needed to combat her inability to speak in front of others. No one gets a clue to how severely wounded she was by events in her life and how she distorted them so that she was to blame. She even tells her brother about what was going on in her mind and he only superficially acknowledges her deep seated pain. Final thought? This book will be an asset to many libraries, but if a child needs professional help, this one will not encourage him/her to seek it out.
If you liked A Good Kind of Trouble all I can tell you is Something to Say is better. Honest. Maybe because the fear of public speaking is SO common, or maybe because Aubrey--the boy who so badly wants to be Jenae's friend is even more likeable than Bernard from AGKOT. Maybe it's because it was so much fun to write. Or because it contains art. Jenae is a girl who longs to go unnoticed--especially by her mother who never seems to like what she sees when she looks at Jenae. Jenae is certain she is the cause of her brother's basketball injury, and even worse things, so she's not anxious to get close to anyone, and especially not an attention seeker like Aubrey. But somehow they do become friends. And now that Jenae has her very first friend, will she risk that in order to avoid giving a speech in front of her class? I so hope you like this book as much as I do!
Janae is starting her first day of junior high school. She is used to being invisible...so she's shocked when the boy next to her introduces himself and seeks her out at lunch time. Janae and this new boy, Aubrey, connect over their love of a fictional character and slowly become friends. But Janae is struggling with a lot-especially a speech she has to give in English class-and must face her fears to be a good friend and sister.
Ramee tackles a lot of issues, but they are woven into the story very well. The characters are flawed, but realistic...and you are rooting for them the whole story!
Much like her debut novel, last year's A Good Kind of Trouble, Lisa Moore Ramee's Something to Say is a pretty sweet, and pretty important, MG contemporary with lots of on-point commentary about social justice. Especially in a year when Black Lives Matter, and protests of the kind seen in Ramee's first book, have come into sharper cultural focus than ever before - and, pretty presciently, this book deals with the potential renaming of a public SoCal institution away from John Wayne, since I'm pretty sure I saw a recent news headline about a petition to rename the airport in Orange County after his infamous pro-white supremacy quotes from the 70s resurfaced for at least the third time in as many years.
Compared to her first book, Ramee gives us a smaller cast of characters, and makes a greater focus on family than friendship. Jenae, even more so than Shayla, has so much social anxiety that naturally she winds up in a class where she has to get ready to perform a public speech - her worst fear of all. And she has some rather unusual coping mechanisms - namely, convincing herself that she can telepathically influence the decisions of others, though this also causes her some significant guilt when she fears that this superpower may have caused injury and illness to those she loves.
Also naturally, though - the kid she's partnered with on this project is her polar opposite in so many ways. Aubrey doesn't have a problem speaking his mind, he's highly visible (literally, with his flaming red hair)...but hey, they're both Danishes (fans of the super-popular Astrid Dane), which helps them start that inevitable friend bond. You love to see it, as the meme says.
Jenae's story is quite a rollercoaster emotionally, because in addition to the ongoing debate about renaming her school for Sylvia Mendez instead of John Wayne, she's got a lot of family issues as well. Her grandfather, Gee, falls ill - which made me tear up a bit, having lost two grandparents to severe illness in the last year. Her brother, Malcolm, can't play basketball right now because of a recent injury, on top of a breakup with his ex-girlfriend - whom Jenae texts behind his back because she misses having her around. Jenae...well, let's just say she makes mistakes, and lots of them, but that comes with the territory at that age. Ramee's got that gift for well-rounded protagonists down to a T, that's for sure. I just wish I could be hand-selling this book the way I used to do with A Good Kind of Trouble...
After really enjoying A Good Kind Of Trouble, I expected more from her than I got in this book. I think I'm about done with this genre.
It's not that it wasn't a good story, or that it was shallow, because it wasn't. It delved into some very modern topics in detailed and exceptional ways. Again the main the characters not being honest with each other is the main problem. Jenae's belief that she can cause horrible things to happen with her mind is not typical 11 year old thinking, her interference in her brother's life by trying to manipulate his ex girlfriend is inexcusable, I cringed every time she did that, it is just SO wrong, even an 11 year old has to know that, and she really did, but did it anyway.
I was a child much like her in that I didn't need external validation for anything, I was alone most of the time by choice, I didn't share the interests of other kids my age, I was advanced well beyond my years, I didn't make an actual friend until fourth grade and he moved away at the end of that year, not another until eighth grade. That she could believe in the power of her mind AND come up with the idea that what John Wayne really didn't want to see was what she saw when she looked at the playground and saw children of all races playing together is just such a disconnect for me that is sort of spoiled the rest of what was otherwise a pretty good book.
I loved the acknowledgment that the world is changing, America is changing, that the last two generations have grown up in very diverse classrooms and do not view racial segregation the way preceding generations have, some still do. The adult behavior around the changing of the school name was reflective of what is happening in America right now in many communities, much of the nation. In truth, it is the children who will lead us out of this horrible history of ours, that will take time, but it is underway and irreversible. I like that Aubrey and Jenae become friends and that their relationship solidifies at the very end of the book. I love the multi generational aspects of the book and feel for Jenae in that I know her beloved grandfather, Gee, is unlikely to see her graduate given what are serious health issues at his age. I love that her mother is shown as an educated, smart Black woman with a great job and career. I just thought maybe the whole thing played out too long. On the whole though, still four stars for the wide range of topics the book covers so very well.