Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Real Us Blog Tour


I’ve been a fan of Tommy Greenwald for a long time. My students and my own children love the Charlie Joe Jackson series, so I was thrilled to get a copy of his newest title The Real Us. It certainly didn’t disappoint. This book is for every tween who struggles with both fitting in and standing out.

Calista Getz is the prettiest and, of course, most popular girl in her class. She is admired by her classmates, coaches and teachers. Calista’s first week of school begins perfectly with her two best friends, Ellie and Ella, by her side and the promise of a date with super cute Patrick for the First Week Dance. Everything at her lunch table is going really well, but Calista and her friends aren’t the only ones in the cafeteria. Artistic and quiet Damian White has watched Calista from afar all last year, and he knows there is much more to her than her looks. He doesn’t dare approach her due to an embarrassing medical condition that causes him to sweat- A LOT! Laura Corbett also watches Calista and wonders why they stopped being best friends once Calista became uber popular. Laura remembers how Calista used to love soccer and reading and all of their fun adventures before Calista’a popularity soared. It hurts that Calista seems to have moved on from their friendship, but there's no room at the popular table for smart, but chubby Laura.

While the week starts well on Monday, it soon takes a terrible turn for Calista when on Tuesday she gets a pimple, a scaly face rash, and an elbow to the nose. Her looks suddenly turn from beautiful to something from a horror movie. While her face will certainly heal in a couple of days, unfortunately, that’s all it takes for her popular “friends” to drop her like a hot potato. How can they do this to her? She's never had anyone ever treat her this badly. Luckily, Damian and Laura refuse to abandon her like the other kids, and they help Calista understand that she is so much more than her good looks. She has brains and depth and an awesome sense of humor. After her face clears, will Calista return to the popular crowd and their shallow ways or will she find that maybe she has more to offer?

On the cover of this book it says, "You're more than what people see" and that is certainly the theme of this story. Damian sweats like crazy and Laura is overweight, but they are the most fantastic kids in the book. They represent the majority of a realistic school population where most kids aren't part of the beautiful crowd. This story is told through the three main characters voices in alternating chapters so the readers get a great sense of how the events of the first week of school effect everyone so differently. I'll admit, I was a little surprised by the feelings the tweens revealed.  Kids like Calista and Patrick are supposed to rule the school while the Damians and Lauras are supposed to get out of their way, but what makes this story so terrific is that they don't all play into their sterotypes. Laura and Damian aren't the typical outsiders who cower when the popular kids walk by. They are confident and sweet and actually pretty secure kids. They stand up for themselves to kids who are pretty intimidating (Will, Ellie, and Ella) and speak up for others. This isn't a depressing tale of kids who aren't popular getting tormented. It feels more realistic than that. I was also pleasantly surprised by Patrick. I expected him to be the good looking snob who puts kids like Damian in the trash can, but instead, he's a great guy. He's just trying to find his way like everyone else. (I think maybe I've seen Mean Girls one too many times). Even Calista quickly learns not to take herself too seriously and gets over the idea of having to be perfect within the time frame of the story. I think that's what makes this a great upper elementary/middle grade book- it all happens within a week so there's no long drawn out bullying or crisis. This is a light and refreshing look at the class system in middle school. The writing flows easily with humor and heart and I would swear Tommy Greenwald was a pre-teen girl in a former life since he writes them so well! This book is a great way to start a discussion with kids about discovering who they REALLY are and how they REALLY feel and then becoming a more REAL version of themselves. I can't wait to add this to my library!