Just Like That

Clarion. Jan. 2021. 400p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544084773.
Gr 5-8–Schmidt’s extended family of memorable characters loses one but gains a few more in this masterful companion to The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. It’s summer 1968, immediately after the end of Wednesday Wars, and Meryl Lee Kowalski (described as having auburn hair and freckles) is reeling from the shocking accidental death of Holling Hoodhood, the boy she’s loved since the third grade. Her parents send her to the prestigious St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls in Harpswell, ME, to help her come to terms with the loss. Also arriving in Harpswell is Matt Coffin, a homeless white 13-year-old whose harrowing past keeps him on the run, with the dream of safety and happiness always out of reach. Matt and Meryl Lee’s lives intertwine with the help of Dr. Nora MacKnockater, headmistress of St. Elene’s. With wisdom and dry humor, Dr. MacKnockater patiently helps both teens recognize their value and innate strength. The novel shares the same setting as Lizzie Bright—Maine’s rugged seacoast—as well as several deftly placed supporting characters fans of Lizzie will appreciate. As Meryl Lee and Matt face grave adult issues, Schmidt contrasts the worst of humanity with the affirmation that love and hope can make the world a beautiful place. His language is honest and direct without trivializing the seriousness of a character’s experience. Meryl Lee realizes “life doesn’t stop even when horrible things happen.” The novel closes with the tantalizing hint that the next family story may come from Matt’s missing past.
VERDICT Schmidt effortlessly weaves seemingly unrelated plot threads into a beautiful tapestry of heartbreak, courage, and humor. An essential purchase for all middle grade collections.

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