Skip to main content

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!

Review

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!

Alex Gino understands that children navigate complex experiences, from gender and sexuality to bigotry and police violence. In their first book GEORGE and again in YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P! they demonstrate how to explore these experiences in fully developed, big-hearted stories that capture nuance clearly, and express it clearly and authentically for a middle grade audience.

"A beautifully written, big-hearted story that explores and explains issues...without being overly handholding...Gino deftly spins a compelling narrative and touches on these themes in a clear, understandable way."

Jillian Pirillo is a curious, compassionate pre-teen who loves her family and fantasy novels. She spends a lot of time on a kids-only forum for lovers of the fictional world Magically Mysterious Vidalia. She bonds with other fans, but comes to discover that even though pretty much everyone means well in the chatrooms, they can sometimes say something hurtful or offensive unintentionally. A few folks in the chatroom are Black, and one young man, whose chat handle is profoundinoaktown, is Deaf. Jilly gets along well with Profound, and knows that it's "okay" that he's Deaf, but finds herself blundering when she's just trying to make conversation or emphasize just how "okay" she is with it (at one point, she asks if his parents order for him at restaurants). When her baby sister Emma is finally born, she is born Deaf too.

At the same time as the Pirillos try and determine what the best move is for Emma, Jilly sees on the news that Black teenagers are being shot by police. Jilly tries to understand these tragedies, even though it scares her. One of her aunts is Black, and so are some of her cousins. She knows they’re treated differently from her and her white family, and she knows they shouldn’t be.

Jilly comes to realize that unfairness and oppression can from a lot of different places. Her parents meet with a doctor who tells them they shouldn’t try to sign to Emma at all – they shouldn’t even wave or gesture. Instead, they should try and focus on cochlear implants and potential surgery. Profound tells Jilly that people in the Deaf community should be able to make those decisions for themselves, and that surgery, while sometimes a great option, isn’t always the best choice – even when hearing folks, even doctors, sometimes treat it like it is.

Jilly loves her family, and generally, they can get along pretty well. But over the holidays, her grandma and one of her uncles make comments about being Black to her Aunt Alicia. Some of the comments seem really offensive, some seem maybe less so, but Jilly recognizes that Aunt Alicia shouldn’t be dealing with any offensive comments at all. She recognizes that even well-meaning people can hurt others, and especially in a system where people are getting killed by the police for the color of their skin or their inability to hear a verbal command, bigotry should be recognized and called out...even and especially when it's in your own family.

YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P! is a beautifully written, big-hearted story that explores and explains issues of disability, bigotry and race without being overly handholding --- Gino deftly spins a compelling narrative and touches on these themes in a clear, understandable way. Jilly P wants to be a good ally and a good friend, and she chooses to recognize her mistakes, own up to them, try to prevent other people from making those mistakes and keep learning. She's a fantastic, well-developed character, and her story of friendship, difference and growth is one that absolutely filled my heart. Well-paced, fierce and balanced with humor, I can't recommend this book enough.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on September 27, 2018

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!
by Alex Gino