I Speak Boy

Delacorte. May 2021. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593173688.
Gr 3-7–If Jane Austen’s Emma attended a contemporary middle school, she would likely be obsessed with using her phone and playing matchmaker for friends. As this middle grade reimagining of Austen’s beloved tale opens, 12-year-old Emmy, who is white, is scheming to set up her best friend Harper, despite Harper’s lack of enthusiasm. Her elaborate plan goes awry, and through a series of mishaps, Emmy ends up downloading a magical app, iSpeak Boy, that translates any boy’s words into what is on his mind. For example: “Dude, your legs look like a giraffe in those pants!” Translation: “How is it possible that Logan and I are the same age and he’s so much taller than me? Will I be this short forever?” At first, this proves useful for understanding her peers and matching up classmates with their crushes. Emmy finally understands her Shakespeare homework and helps her mom with a work situation. But the app soon causes more confusion than it solves. The premise implies a light fluffy tale, and the story doesn’t disappoint, with an accessible voice, flirting, and references to clothes and pop music. Readers will also find a tender coming-of-age story as Emmy learns to appreciate friends and family and accepts that she shouldn’t control other people’s romantic relationships. References to technology may not age well, and characters consistently use the word lame as an insult.
VERDICT Some flaws aside, this modern retelling is an inviting, humorous, and heartfelt take on the classic matchmaking theme.

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