Sticks & Stones

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Sticks & Stones Book Poster Image
Quirky tween dramedy has strong messages about self-esteem.

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age 10+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Tween coming-of-age story meant to entertain, but it does give a glimpse of middle school life, romance, and how to build self-esteem.

Positive Messages

Sometimes words really do hurt, so long as you let them have power over you. Believing in yourself and in the good things about you gives you the confidence and power you need so what other people say can't hurt you. Your own thoughts have a lot of power over your body and your feelings, so be nice to yourself. The only sure thing in life is that there will be doubt and uncertainty, so you have to decide what's worth taking a risk for by weighing the best- and worst-case outcomes. It's nice to be liked, but it doesn't mean you have to like the person back.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elyse is a strong model for coping with adversity. She learns to accept herself, to believe that she has a lot to offer, and not to be embarrassed about her physical condition. One of her classmates models "queen bee" behavior, but Elyse eventually finds a way to change their relationship for the better. Elyse creates a temporary, anonymous email account in an attempt to break up a couple, then deletes the account after sending and receiving one email. She's immediately remorseful and suffers physically because of it. Sixth-graders' interests often conform to stereotype (girls like clothes and make-up, boys like sports), but Elyse becomes a respected and admired class leader, thinks creatively, and discovers a lot of inner strength in herself.


No physical violence. Some mean "queen-bee" behavior. Elyse in mild peril once.


Tweens "going together," and dating depicted as normal. Mild feelings of attraction and desire described. Several mentions of holding hands. A sixth-grader claims to have kissed three times. Elyse has brief feelings of being obliged to slow-dance with or show affection toward Andy, who takes her out a few times and really likes her. She doesn't like him the same way and realizes that although it's nice when someone likes you, it doesn't mean you have to like them back.


No profanity. Lots of name-calling, including a rival character consistently called "Snotty Ami," "dork," "loser," and "poopyhead." "Pee" and "boobs."


Discovery Channel, a "Costco-sized box." Mention of shopping and buying makeup and clothing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sticks & Stones is about sixth-grader Elyse, who has a genetic condition that causes names that people call her, or even that she thinks about herself, to be spelled out on her skin as an itchy rash. This is the only fantasy element to the story. Although the content is fine for most big kids, it'll be better appreciated by tweens and middle schoolers because it's mostly a quirky look at Elyse's social life and events in the first year of middle school. There's no profanity or violence but lots of name-calling such as "dork" and "Snotty Ami" and some mean, queen-bee behavior from Elyse's rival. Sexy stuff is only a few mentions of kissing and some early romantic-relationship dynamics, although it's presented as normal that fifth- and sixth-graders "go out" with each other romantically, including going on dates. The takeaway is very positive about accepting yourself and not being bothered by what others think about you.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byAmylug June 18, 2018

Easily my least favorite book

When I first picked up this book I thought I would be reading an amazing story about a girl coming into her own, gaining self-confidence and learning that you s... Continue reading

What's the story?

Elyse was born with a genetic condition that causes words to appear as a rash on her skin whenever someone calls her a name -- or even when she just thinks the name to herself. Mean names such as "loser" and "dork" are unbearably itchy, but nice words such as "leader" and "cool" feel soothing on her skin. Now she's starting middle school with a whole bunch of kids from other elementary schools who don't know about her condition. Worse still, her best friend, protector, and buffer Jeg has starting hanging out with the popular crowd, leaving Elyse to fend for herself. And why can't she stop thinking about Liam, who doesn't want to go out with her any more, and start thinking about Andy, who's really nice? When she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous notes encouraging her to try out for Explorer Leader of the sixth-grade camping trip, Elyse is relieved to know someone's in her corner. But will that be enough to help her get past the STICKS & STONES?

Is it any good?

Tween girls looking forward to middle school will enjoy the drama of Elyse's ups and downs as she learns to navigate sixth grade and that she's got a lot to offer the world when she trusts herself. Getting to know new kids, changing friendships, frustrating romance, and "Snotty Ami" are just some of what makes her story easy to relate to. Her voice is believable and engagingly quirky, with plenty of age-appropriate laughs along the way. Elyse is easy to sympathize with, and readers will admire the chin-up way she copes with being different.

Elyse is a good role model for learning to accept yourself and that although words definitely can hurt, they can also help. But the plot's heavy on middle school drama, so kids who aren't interested in social status or ready for romance won't find much else here. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how words can hurt. When does "kids being kids" become bullying?

  • If there were a word written on your skin somewhere, what would it be? Would it itch or feel OK? Why?

  • How was Elyse able to find camp after being left alone in the snow? What would you have done if it had been you?

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