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Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Just discovered this beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, incisively written review of JUSTIN CASE. I'm honored by the praise, of course, but particularly blown away by the respect and care shown by the reviewer for the characters AND the readers. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Kim Zarin:
's review
Jan 16, 13

bookshelves: middle-grade-fiction
Read in November, 2012

I’m a big fan of Justin Case. I’m guessing the people who love these books best and long for more are the ones who know someone like Justin. Someone for whom life does not come easy, for whom soccer is exhausting on multiple levels, authority figures are objects of frightening power, parents are well-meaning but often don’t get it (Dad, let the kid drop soccer already!), and friendships are more complex than the hardest math problems. If you know someone like Justin, you’ll clutch this book close to your heart. But that’s me talking, an adult, getting all nostalgic and wanting to hug every Justin Case on this planet (only if it didn’t alarm said kids). Let me add that there is real child value here. Despite some comparisons on the Goodreads reviews, the style is not of the Wimpy Kid variety, where the humor is relies on characters fulfilling their roles as types (like the older brother with forbidden magazines and music, which Greg finds, etc.). The humor in JUSTIN CASE lies in the overly analyzed way in which Justin observes his world, often misinterpreting it or blowing things out of proportion. Kids will laugh at Justin’s worried ways…but there is some self-recognition too.

Justin is a planner. He likes a predictable schedule. He likes to know life in advance. Justin learns that he can’t always have the life he planned for. None of us can. You can’t choose your teacher, your dog, or sometimes even your friends. They choose you, and they make you grow. He’d have been fine having only Daisy and Noah as his friends forever, but third grade forced him into a wider circle, and he finds some common ground with kids he would not have touched with a ten foot pole. Once his ideal of friendship is put aside, he can made friends, just like once his ideal of dogs is put aside, he can start caring about Qwerty. Once he sees Qwerty’s need and his fear, or say Gianni’s, Justin can set aside his own fears in his desire to be gentle to those who open up to him.

If I could sum Justin in one word, I don’t think it would be “worried.” It would be vulnerable. “Worried” is too dismissive (as in, “stop worrying”). “Vulnerable” is pure and earnest and full of heart. It comes from the Latin word vulnus, meaning wound. Justin carries wounds with him. His quest is to find healing.

And the magic of these books is that Justin begins to see vulnerability in others. For example, he lives in mortal fear of Xavier Schwartz and Gianni Schicci (notice how the surnames usually are included as a distancing, objectifying technique, as if these action figures are still fresh from the box, whereas his former best friend Daisy remains just Daisy, sweet and lovely, yet not motivated to remain close to him). Unlike Daisy, Xavier and Gianni are rough, rowdy kids. But during the novel, Justin sees a bit deeper into them. Gianni loves stuffed animals as much as Justin does. Xavier calls Justin his friend. Those moments work like scaffolding to hold up Justin and connect him to a world that may have vulnerability too.

The family and social demands on Justin are complex, and this would be a terrific book to read aloud in the classroom or at home, to talk about Justin’s perceptions and the reality of the situations that challenge him so much. It’s a good book to talk through because it’s a book with something to say. 

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