The Thing About Leftovers

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
The Thing About Leftovers Book Poster Image
Tween finds her footing in bittersweet post-divorce tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Fizzy is learning how to navigate an emotionally challenging time in her life. She's developing coping skills, a willingness to communicate her feelings, and the ability to focus on her own goals, even when she's really upset. Beyond that, she speaks some French phrases (which readers learn the meaning of), learns how to do fractions and word problems (letting readers in on the methods), and discusses her cooking techniques.

Positive Messages

It's not easy going through divorce, but it's possible to adjust to life after divorce. Believe in yourself, even when you feel like like no one else believes in you. Striving for a goal can help you cope when you're feeling bad. Your parents still love you, even when it seems they're totally absorbed in their own lives. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Fizzy feels like she's a pan of leftover spaghetti that no one wants to bother with. But her discomfort also serves to motivate her to be really good at something -- cooking -- and she works hard to get into a cook-off contest. Fizzy's parents are both focused on their new lives and new spouses. But her Aunt Liz understands Fizzy and provides a refuge at a time when Fizzy feels like she's a guest in her own home. The adults respond to Fizzy's feelings when she does express herself, however, and bridges are built. Fizzy's Japanese friend Miyoko has a stereotyped "tiger mom," and Miyoko pretends to know karate to scare off mean girls. But Miyoko also exhibits loyalty and courage. 

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism

Southern Living magazine is glorified for its recipes and its cook-off, which Fizzy hopes to compete in. The in crowd in Lush Valley wear the best clothes and shoes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Thing About Leftovers is a touching story about divorce set in Kentucky, and it explores the meaning of family and psychological survival. Sixth-grade narrator Fizzy's voice is hopeful and strong, even when she hits rock-bottom. And she gets by with humor, as well. There are some references to Christian faith and some racial stereotypes -- Fizzy's Japanese-American friend Miyoko has a "tiger mom," and Miyoko pretends to know karate to scare away some mean girls. 

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What's the story?

Fizzy Russo is a sixth-grader whose life is in flux. Her parents have been divorced for a few months, and she has had to change schools and adjust to packing up on the weekends to visit her dad. Now a new man is in her mom's life, and Fizzy's not sure if she feels welcome in either home. In fact, she begins to feel as if she doesn't have a home or a real family. The one place where she feels like a superstar is in the kitchen, and she works toward her goal of taking her cooking to a higher level with the help of her reliable aunt. When Fizzy hits some serious lows, she does her best to convince everyone that she's fine. But her pain needs to be expressed, and FIzzy needs to figure out how to express it ... and be heard.

Is it any good?

This is an engaging portrayal of a plucky kid who loses her footing in the aftermath of a difficult divorce. Author C.C. Payne brings humor and insight into her character's point of view, which feels distinctively Southern in tone. In the context of a tight-knit Southern town, where ladies who lunch are preparing for the big horse derby, a kid from a "broken home" stands out more than her urban peers in other media portrayals of divorce. The tension is obvious for Fizzy, who somehow manages to keep her sense of self and her vision for her future intact, even when she feels as if "she doesn't have the right stuff." In this way, THE THING ABOUT LEFTOVERS  is an important addition to the canon of books having to do with divorce and loss. It gives kids in more traditional environments a heroine to look up to. And Fizzy is sweet enough, lovable enough, and tough enough to be that heroine. 

Fizzy's efforts to be noticed, the pain that she internalizes, and the process that she endures when coming to terms with her split family are spot on. Readers will feel for her and root for her. And for kids who are going through the family transitions that Fizzy is going through, her struggle will feel relatable and might offer a glimmer of hope to the tweens and teens out there who also feel like yesterday's leftovers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what a "normal" family looks like. Is it two parents in a home? How do you feel about the way your family looks?

  • Fizzy dreams of having her own cooking show on TV. How do her goals help her? What shows or movies or books inspire you?

  • If you had a friend whose parents were getting a divorce or were getting remarried, what would you do to help them cope? Does the school counselor help Fizzy?

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