About to start his first year of middle school, Rick is both nervous and excited. He looks forward to the new system of changing classes and teachers each period, but he is nervous about making new friends. Up to this point he really has had only one friend, Jeff, with whom he spends a lot of time playing computer games and reluctantly participating in whatever mischief Jeff devises. Jeff likes to stir up trouble and has an anger problem that is exacerbated (and probably driven) by his relationship with an abusive, unpredictable father. Truth be told, Rick is always somewhat nervous around Jeff but tries to keep him placated so that the friendship can continue.

With Jeff, Rick does not always speak his mind or stand up for himself, but sometimes that is because he doesn’t know himself how he feels about things. As he and Jeff get ready for middle school, Rick is uncomfortable about comments his friend is making about meeting “hot girls” at school and seeing a naked woman at the beach. In addition, his dad keeps talking about the interesting girls he will meet at school that he can pursue. Rick is not interested in that kind of stuff and starts to wonder if something is wrong with him.

On the first day of school he is seated next to a girl who he thinks is new to the campus, but when he introduces himself to her as part of an icebreaker activity, he realizes that he knows her already from last year when she was a boy. Now she is a transgender girl with a different name. Other students (and teachers) at the school also present themselves as different gender types. When a fellow student–who hates him because of his association with Jeff–announces the first after-school meeting of the Rainbow Spectrum LGBTQIAP+ Club, Rick tells Jeff he’s attending an origami club instead because he fears Jeff’s scorn and hates to lose his only friend. At the Rainbow Spectrum meeting, though, Rick meets friendly people and is encouraged enough to continue attending.

Thus follows an examination of the gender fluidity issues that blanket society today. For young people seeking information about such, this book presents characters in various situations–two moms raising a son, two male teachers living together, a cross-dressing grandfather, a transgender girl, a nonbinary student, two students in a lesbian relationship, a teacher having a baby with her wife, and so on. Aside from Jeff’s homophobic ranting, everything is presented in matter-of-fact fashion. There are a few instances of violence involving Jeff. The only instance of what may be considered offensive language is the use of “hell.” There are no graphic sexual references or descriptions of any kind.

My eyebrows rose near the end of the book when the Rainbow Spectrum Club decides to have a talent show to raise money for the school library to purchase LGBTQIAP+ materials for its collection. My immediate thought was, “Somebody call the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee ASAP,” because I could just imagine the phone calls rolling in from local community members. Take your best shot, librarians, and add this book to your collection.

Categories: Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Depression, Differently Abled, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through Middle School, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships

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