I received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My oldest daughter is almost nine years old, so I have recruited her to help me with the middle grade ARCs that I receive from Netgalley. She is a voracious reader, but she tends to gravitate towards comics and graphic novels rather than novels. Reading together gives her the opportunity to expand her repertoire, and I get some great feedback from the target demographic.
We recently read Just Like Me by Nancy Cavanaugh. The story begins with narrator Julia on the bus to sleepaway camp with Avery and Becca, her “Chinese sisters”. The girls were all adopted at the same time from the same orphanage. Avery and Becca live close to each other, get together all the time, and have embraced their Chinese heritage. Julia has been struggling with her identity, and sees herself as half Irish, half Italian like her parents- and half Chinese too.
When the girls arrive at camp, they are placed in the White Oak cabin with Vanessa, a queen bee type; Meredith, who goes along with Vanessa; and Gina, Vanessa’s cousin who likes to joke around. The girls immediately start to fight: Vanessa is very competitive and yells at everyone for not trying hard enough at competitions. The girls get in trouble for fighting, and end up bonding when they realize that everyone is struggling with something. Can they use their strengths to work together and win the big cabin competition?
Many of the chapters end with Julia’s journal entries. She has been tasked with putting together a journal for the adoption coordinator, and the entries provide the reader with insight into Julia’s feelings about being adopted. Incidentally, Avery and Becca are also keeping journals, but we are not provided with their entries. Over the course of the book, Julia’s feelings shift. She is initially resentful at being grouped with Avery and Becca, who she doesn’t have as much in common with as people expect her to; just because they came from the same place, they aren’t exactly the same.
My daughter enjoyed this book so much that she has asked if she can go away to camp too. She was very surprised by the “mean” behavior from some of the characters, and this led to a conversation about what was going on in a particular character’s background that might make them say mean things.
I also enjoyed this book, and I think it has a lot to offer all children- not just those who might identify with Julia. We have several friends who were born in China, and while I would not want to make any assumptions about their mindset, I’d like to think that Julia’s feelings might provide them with validation regarding their own feelings surrounding the adoption.
I would recommend Just Like Me to middle grade readers. This book has so much to offer. There is plenty of summer camp cheesiness like silly music and competitions, but there is also introspection and a sense of self-discovery. I think that many children can find something relate to, and that working together is necessary to succeed, and that success is measured in more ways than just winning.