One reason I think I'm drawn especially to middle grade novels is that the characters are generally right in the throes of the struggle for identity. Novels for teens address similar issues, but the audience is closer to adulthood. In the middle grade years, we're all caught in that trap of beginning to leave childhood behind and grow up. This can make for a complex muddle of emotions and conflicts, when what we want and what we think we should do are often at opposite ends of the spectrum.
I don't want to let out a huge spoiler for this novel, so I won't reveal Verbena's secret. But let's just say it's the kind of thing that would throw anyone for a loop, much less a girl who's already at a crossroads in her life just due to her age and development. Add to this Verbena's struggles with her own delays and her best friend Annie's sudden interest in makeup and boys, and you can see why Verbena might want to be someone else. At times it seemed as if Weeks had really piled a lot on Verbena, but when you think about it, isn't that the way life goes? It does for me, at least. And what's admirable is that Verbena handles it like a real kid would -- not always gracefully, not always wisely, and sometimes by lashing out at the people who love her most.
Verbena is the kind of character kids will relate to and empathize with. Even those who haven't faced the same challenges Verbena copes with can understand her, a girl who just wants life to go back the way it used to be. This is a solidly written, believable novel by an author who clearly relates to her audience.
As Simple As It Seems by Sarah Weeks, published by HarperCollins
Sample quote: "I could have told those boys to knock it off, or at least given them a dirty look -- especially Chris, whose guts I already hated for another reason. But instead of defending my mother, I closed my eyes and wished with all my might that I could be somebody else -- anybody besides me."