A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Willa's struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder provide a chance for readers to understand what it feels like to have this challenge. Socks need to be pre-stretched, no tags allowed, no itchy or tight clothing, or else Willa's sense of calm evaporates. Her occupational therapy sessions are outlined in detail. Willa's brother Benji loves geography and history, so whatever random facts he's interested in, like the origin of the Austrian flag, are mentioned as well.
Change is hard, but acceptance is a tool that can make it possible. Friends can stick by you and make your life easier. Everyone has some issue, which can make our own issues feel more human. The world is not perfect, so we have to adjust to what is. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Being yourself is what matters, so don't fight it. Help is there if you need it.
Positive Role Models
Willa is being raised by her dad during the week and she and her brother go to their mom and step dad's for the weekend. Her parents understand her sensory issues, and they are patient and skilled in dealing with her. Ruby's mom is also patient and kind. The parents are very empathetic in their attempts to make living with divorce and remarriage as easy on their kids as possible. WIlla feels very comfortable and supported by her occupational therapist, Maureen.
Products & Purchases
LEGOs are Willa's go-to when she needs to focus or stay calm, and she talks a lot about LEGOs. She connects with a younger kid at school by playing with LEGOs and trading pieces. Specific New York City locales are mentioned, such as I Scream, Ellington in the Park, The Central Park Zoo and Columbus Circle. Other brands include: Google, Pokemon, American Ninja Warrior, Land's End, Manchester United, Dunkin' Donuts, Whole Foods, Adidas, Hubba Bubba, KIND bars, Disney World, Shake Shack, KEEN shoes, iPad, Purell, Popsicle, Band-Aid, YouTube, FaceTime, Tintin, Minecraft, Old Yeller, Because of Winn Dixie, Moana.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Willa's dad buys a bottle of wine and the adults drinks wine when they're having dinner.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Not If I Can Help It , by Printz Honor-winning author Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things), is a book about divorce, remarriage, and their effects on children and families. Willa Grover is a fifth-grader living in the Upper West Side of New York City. She lives with her dad and her younger brother, Benji, during the week and goes to her mom and stepdad's in Upstate New York on the weekends. Willa has Sensory Processing Disorder, which, in her words, "means that being in my body is harder than it is for most people." She gets edgy and cranky if things don't feel right or if she's overwhelmed, which means she might scream, squeal, or throw tantrums when other people might just take a deep breath. Changes in the family dynamic challenge the kids in the book, but the families work hard to make changes easier on the kids involved.
Is It Any Good?
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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