It’s a familiar feeling. We’ve all been the new person at some point in our lives — whether it was back in school when we were kids, or even now as adults navigating an ever-changing world when we find ourselves attending gatherings (like book club meetups) where we might not know anyone else, even as others might be more familiar with each other.
Erin Entrada Kelly (the author of the Newberry Medal-winning Hello, Universe) takes this idea and flips it a bit in her latest book, Those Kids From Fawn Creek, as she shines a focus on a group of 12 kids in Fawn Creek, Louisiana, and the new girl who joins their seventh-grade class. A drop of change in a town that hardly sees any of it.
Immediately, Orchid Mason is not like anyone else they’ve ever met, with stories of a life lived in distant cities like Paris and New York and a kindness that proves gently disarming. Her arrival ripples outward, affecting all 12 of her new classmates. But her biggest impact is on Greyson, whose taste doesn’t fit with everyone else’s expectations of what a boy should like and enjoy, his best friend Dorothy, the shyest girl in class, and Junie, the "prettiest girl in school," who instantly dislikes Orchid.
For Greyson and Dorothy — or “Didi” as she eventually chooses to go by — Orchid represents life outside their small town and a chance to escape and become their own people, rather than continuing to exist in the boxes other people have stuck them in, simply because they’ve spent all their lives around each other. For Junie, Orchid is a reminder that things don't always have to stay the same. That perhaps change can even be good sometimes.
The large cast of characters springs to life from the very first page and they only feel more real as it goes on thanks to Kelly’s use of shifting points of view. In simple, beautiful prose, she captures all the issues 13-year-olds might face while in school, such as toxic friendships, name-calling, and even the spread of hurtful rumours. Through it all, Kelly skillfully portrays these painful moments, deftly capturing how they might impact and affect the students involved, rather than focusing too long on the words that are used against them.
In fact, the way we use words is one of the underlying themes of the novel, as is the importance of seeing (and accepting) people for who they are, and the power of self-acceptance. It’s a lesson each of the kids from Fawn Creek learns over the course of the novel, though some arrive there later than others. To Kelly’s credit, this doesn’t resolve all the characters’ problems, though it does make them all much happier than they had been before. After all, there can’t always be happy endings in life, but there can be plenty of wins and good moments.
Those Kids From Fawn Creek is an ideal read for book clubs aimed at younger readers or even in the classroom as it will spark plenty of meaningful discussion among its middle-grade readers, as kids will no doubt see some of their struggles reflected in its pages — or at least something they can relate to. Older readers will also find plenty to enjoy in Kelly’s style and the way she allows her stories to unfold, along with what the characters experience. Perfect for anyone seeking out a quick read that also has meaningful themes at its centre.
Inspired to write your own book review? Let us know! Still searching for the perfect book to capture your imagination and get those creative juices flowing? Check out one of our many book recommendation lists. Have the perfect book but don't know how to get started? Erin Entrada Kelly discussing her writing process might help!