Parents' Guide to

Not If I Can Help It

By Joly Herman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Genuine kid voice wavers in tale of divorce and disability.

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Is It Any Good?

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This important exploration of life after divorce for a kid with challenges falls short of its potential. Though the plot points in Not If I Can Help It are there -- a conflict that seems insurmountable for the struggling main character and a twist that could drive the ending either way -- the narrative doesn't always sound true to a kid's thoughts. The narrator does a fair amount of explaining in an adult manner, which isn't as much fun as wholehearted kid-like immersion. Eleven-year-olds usually don't say that "everyone glances at you in pity" when a kid's sent to the time-out area of the room. Nor does it sound quite right for a kid to say "[we] struck a careful peace" when the "we" in this scenario are two 21st century fifth-graders in the middle of the biggest fight of their friendship.

Kids who struggle with sensory challenges or learning disabilities will appreciate that Willa wants to hide her challenges. Nobody wants to stick out. Wincing at references to her "broken home" also feels real, because Willa has fought to make the best of the divorce situation. Luckily, her parents make a real effort for their kids, and they work as a team. Also nice is the fact that the story gains momentum and grace as it comes to a satisfying conclusion. Life may not be perfect, but when families and friends work together to help with the changes, it can get sweeter.

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