Little Bee/Yellow Jacket. Jan. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499810066.
Gr 4-7–Middle-schooler Jelly kills it with teacher impersonations, but what’s she hiding on the inside? Jelly is the class clown living by the mantra: if they’re laughing with you they can’t laugh at you. When taunted about her size, Jelly imitates a hippo or a walrus. But every jab hurts, so Jelly pours out her true feelings in poetry. With a single mom in the beauty business and a babysitter who creates perfect versions of her body on a phone app, Jelly knows she doesn’t fit in. Jelly and her friends don’t see any black or Indian models or fat girls when browsing fashion magazines. Jelly, who is worried about her loving but needy mother and feels the pressure of suppressing her feelings, spirals out of control. Enter Mom’s new boyfriend, Lennon, and a fresh perspective. Can Jelly find the courage to read her poems in public? Cotterill’s novel explores themes of body image, creativity, and self-acceptance. Following the emotional growth of a girl whose observational skills are both a gift and a curse, Jelly’s poetry is an important outlet and a stark contrast to her outward clowning. The relationship between mother and daughter feels real: Jelly’s mom can’t hide her hang-ups about Jelly’s body even as she struggles to love her daughter unconditionally. Readers will cheer for Jelly and her mom as they find the strength to stand up to a bigoted grandfather. While Lennon brings the promise of salvation, it is Jelly and her mom who begin to shape their own destinies.
VERDICT An engaging story about body image, family dynamics, and the power of poetry.

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