A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Middle-grade story emphasizes emotional growth, encourages communication skills, and inspires thought about character strengths like empathy and integrity.
You might not want things to change, but if you try to keep them the same forever, you'll never move forward. Life isn't all good or all bad; there's always some of both. So enjoy the good, learn from the bad. Being fat, gay, or anything else doesn't have to be a bad thing, or the only thing you are, or even what defines who you are.
Positive Role Models
Characters are a diverse group with a variety of skin colors, hair textures, cultural backgrounds. Positive lesbian and gay representation from several characters, including main character Sweet Pea's dad, favorite teacher, and best friend. Sweet Pea herself is a good model for body positivity because she isn't defined or limited by her body size or shape while acknowledging that sometimes other people's attitudes and negative messages like "we don't carry your size" can hurt.
Violence & Scariness
A few references to a dead grandmother. Sweet Pea learns that her other grandmother (who lives far away) has dementia and what that means. Very brief and lightly funny reference to a dead pet hamster.
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A few uses of "butt," some bodily function humor about vomiting and farting.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dear Sweet Pea is a middle-grade story by Julie Murphy, the author of popular teen novels Dumplin' and Ramona Blue. There are a lot of positive representations of different races, body types, and people who identify as gay. Main character Sweet Pea is nearing the end of seventh grade and dealing with her parents' divorce, her dad's coming out as gay, and changing friendships. Fear of change makes her hide important mail and voice messages from her father. She feels guilty about it, but there are never any consequences. There's no strong language (only an occasional "butt" and "fart") and no violence. There are a few brief references to the deaths of a grandmother and a pet hamster, and a few brief descriptions of a stuffed (as in, taxidermy) pet cat. Romance is confined to a few butterfly-type feelings around Sweet Pea's crush. Sweet Pea is a strong role model for body positivity, and messages are positive about dealing with change and learning from mistakes.
Is It Any Good?
Author Julie Murphy creates a believable main character with relatable problems, but this middle-grade debut suffers from a few plot holes, bland supporting characters, and overall lack of sparkle. Readers in the target age range will root for and empathize with Dear Sweet Pea as she negotiates big changes in her life, and they'll enjoy navigating the complexities of family and friendships along with her. Sweet Pea's voice is authentic but not very distinctive, and unfortunately the same can be said for a lot of the rest of the book, too: The setting, the other characters, some of the events all ring true but aren't especially unique.
That being said, there are a lot of positive messages to absorb about body image, self-esteem, sexual orientation, integrity, and honest communication. None of the characters are defined by any one aspect of their lives, bodies, or backgrounds, so it's a refreshing reminder that people are more than just one thing, especially more than just what they look like. It will also reassure younger readers that big changes can be scary, but those changes can be faced and overcome with support from family and friends.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.