A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- Author: Abby Cooper
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: July 12, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: January 31, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.