Don’t Ask If I’m Okay

Page Street Kids. May 2023. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781645677659.
Gr 9 Up–It’s been a year since Gage survived a car accident that killed his cousin and best friend Hunter during their senior year of high school in small-town Iowa. Gage still can’t get into a car and frets when loved ones drive off in theirs. Suppressing his PTSD and depression, he builds up Hunter in his memory as perfect and invulnerable, forgetting that the grief immobilizing him is something Hunter never had to experience. When a rageful outburst at a customer at the local diner makes Gage a stranger to himself, his boss gives him the week off. Still pretending everything’s okay, he loses himself in the work he loves—cooking—by preparing special dishes for his family, and while they are away, organizing a days-long feast and memorial for Hunter’s friends that inevitably falls apart. A generous serving of fantasy informs this peer group, who are sensitive to Gage’s fragility. But he has to come clean to himself first. All the characters are white except Mia, who’s one of “only about seven” local Black families. She’s also one of several close friends whose familiarity with the characters, costumes, movies, and music of The Lord of the Rings binds them together and brings about Gage’s emotional catharsis.
VERDICT A compassionate, fast-moving novel about grief, shame, and loss; references to The Lord of the Rings will strongly engage readers fond of the fantasy series.

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