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Dear Sweet Pea

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Dear Sweet Pea Book Poster Image
Thoughtful tale tackles middle-grade, divorce, body image.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Middle-grade story emphasizes emotional growth, encourages communication skills, and inspires thought about character strengths like empathy and integrity.

Positive Messages

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 and 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 & Representations

Characters are a diverse group with a variety of skin colors, hair textures, and cultural backgrounds described. 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.

Language

A few uses of "butt," some bodily function humor about vomiting and farting.

What 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 make 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, a pet hamster, and a few brief descriptions of a taxidermied 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.

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What's the story?

In DEAR SWEET PEA, Sweet Pea is dealing with a lot of changes in her life as seventh grade comes to a close. First and foremost, there's her parents' divorce, with her dad moving into a house two doors down on the same street, and Sweet Pea still adjusting to sharing her days of the week between her parents. There are also signs that things may be changing with her ex-BFF Kiera. Was Kiera just actually kind of nice to Sweet Pea for the first time since fourth grade? Then there's the odd request for a favor from Sweet Pea's neighbor, Miss Flora Mae, the local eccentric and advice columnist who has to go out of town for a few weeks. But what Sweet Pea learns, or thinks she learns while watering Miss Flora Mae's plants and collecting her mail will bring about the biggest changes of all.

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 they can be faced and overcome with support from family and friends.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Dear Sweet Pea shows a positive body image. How does Sweet Pea feel about her body? Why is it important for books, movies, videos, and other media to include people of different sizes, shapes, colors, or abilities?

  • Sweet Pea's dad politely points out when people make being gay or fat seem like a bad thing. How does he do that? Why is it important to try to point out when that happens?

  • What do you think of the way Sweet Pea answers letters asking for advice? If you wrote an advice column or blog, how would you answer the letters?

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