Though it is ostensibly about grief, most readers will be more touched by its frank and empathetic exploration of common and often unspoken relationship struggles experienced by young teen girls.
Recommended grade level: 7 or 8 and up
Pages: 329 (for ISBN 9781492654490)
Pace: leisurely to moderate
Summary: Sofia lost her mother eight months ago, and her friends were 100% there for her. Now it’s a new year and they’re ready for Sofia to move on.
Problem is, Sofia can’t bounce back, can’t recharge like a cellphone. She decides to write Dear Kate, an advice columnist for Fifteen Magazine, and is surprised to receive a fast reply. Soon the two are exchanging emails, and Sofia opens up and spills all, including a few worries that are totally embarrassing. Turns out even advice columnists don’t have all the answers, and one day Sofia learns a secret that flips her world upside down.
SPEED OF LIFE is the heartbreaking, heartwarming story of a girl who thinks her life is over when really it’s just beginning. It’s a novel about love, family, grief, and growing up.(Source)
Who will like this book?: This is a great catharsis read for girls in their early teen years trying to figure out changes in their relationships with family, friends, and potential romantic partners–especially those with questions and worries they are too embarrassed to voice. The plot progresses at a respectable pace and there’s a bit of suspense to keep the reader interested. It portrays relationships fairly realistically, but romance-lovers should also be satisfied.
Who won’t like this book?: This speaks directly to a common young teen female growing up experience. Those who don’t fit this experience or have never been in this demographic may not understand its significance as well as readers who are more similar to Sofia do. It’s packed with gasp-worthy developments, and some may find it melodramatic or improbable.
Other comments: My recommended age of readers for this one will depend on the reader. Some middle schoolers and/or their parents aren’t ready for this sort of frank discussion of sexuality. But many kids this age will have the same questions and experiences as Sofia. For the right reader, this book could be a huge source of reassurance.
It’s worth noting that Sofia does drink a little beer in this book; she then decides not to do it again. (She doesn’t experience negative repercussions for drinking, she just decides she doesn’t want to anymore.)
Readalikes: There are a lot of good middle grade books about grief over the death of a parent, like Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and Love, Aubrey by Suzanne M. LaFleur (this one reads a little younger). For those interested in “edgier” issues on a middle school level, Natasha Friend has some good books; Where You’ll Find Me deals with a blended family, and Perfect deals with the death of a parent. These also encorporate issues like mental illness and abuse. Those ready for a little more mature content should enjoy Sarah Dessen’s books.
Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27969093-speed-of-life