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You Go First

Review

You Go First

Hundreds of miles apart, on opposite sides of the country, two precocious middle-schoolers connect through online games of scrabble, becoming the lifeline both of them in need in times of great transition. 

Ben Boxer’s parents have just announced that they’re getting divorced. Charlotte Lockard’s father just suffered a massive heart attack and had to have surgery. These are the types of things that either sixth-grader might confide to a friend, but Ben Boxer has always sat alone at lunch and Charlotte Lockard’s best friend is drifting away from her. The only constant that either of them have and can count on is the ongoing scrabble game that the two share. Ben realizes that Lottie (as Charlotte is known online) is the only person that he would call if he won the lottery and Charlotte realizes that with Ben she can be her ideal self.

"Erin Entrada Kelly has captured the reality of middle school....Both characters’ voices are so wonderfully realized and fun."

Ben copes with his parent’s imminent divorce (his father’s absences from dinners and family time, the growing piles of boxes as his dad separates his life from Ben and his mom) by shutting both parents out --- a first in his life --- and realizing that he needs something else to focus on. So he decides to run for student council --- despite the fact that his opponent and the sixth-grade bullies are intent on making sure he loses.

Charlotte copes at first by clinging to her best friend Bridget, unable to realize that the other girl cares less about friendship and more about hanging out with girls she deems cooler and fashionable. Charlotte falls down “rabbit holes” --- research that leads to endless amounts of new facts that she files away for later --- in an attempt to deal with her growing anxieties about her parents’ aging (they’re significantly older than most of her friends’ parents), her loneliness at school and her inability to step foot into her father’s hospital room.

Through these short alternating chapters, readers are introduced to two charming, heartfelt and intelligent children who are realistic and relatable. Erin Entrada Kelly has captured the reality of middle school, especially for kids who may march to the beat of their own drum, so to speak. Both characters’ voices are so wonderfully realized and fun. Readers of any age will want to not only be friends with both characters but also probably want to play scrabble afterward as well.

Despite the turbulent conflicts in the book --- bullying, friendship breakups, divorce and health concerns --- there are echoes of hope that follow throughout the novel to the very end. Readers will come away wanting more of Ben and Charlotte’s story if only to see them succeed and prove anyone who doubted them wrong. Like with her Newberry Award winner, HELLO UNIVERSE, Erin Entrada Kelly is bound to have another winner on her hands with YOU GO FIRST and I can’t wait for readers young and old to meet Ben and Charlotte.

Reviewed by on April 24, 2018

You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly