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You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! Book Poster Image
Brave but heavy-handed look at racism and deaf life.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

American Sign Language explored, some signs explained. Jilly learns to speak up about racism, and some advice is given about talking among the white community about the Black Lives Matter movement. Deaf community members articulate their points of view so that hearing people will understand their experience.  

Positive Messages

Keep talking about the world's problems -- especially about violence. Change comes with effort. You can't always say the right thing, but you can keep trying. Everybody's life is valuable.

Violence

Lots of focus on kids who have been killed by police. Police shoot a deaf black girl seven times in the back, and she's a friend of a character in the book. Jilly's family attend a protest where families of victims talk about police violence, and there's seven minutes of silence for the seven bullets that were shot into a teen victim.

Sex
Language

"Sucks," "hella."

Consumerism

Raisin Bran, Disney Channel, Red Vines, UC Berkeley.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Alex Gino's You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! deals with racism, police violence, deaf culture, and trying to talk about big issues without hurting someone's feelings. Jilly, age 12, welcomes a baby sister into the family and watches her parents struggle with the news that her baby sister has a hearing impairment. She also sees the struggle her Aunt Alicia (who's married to her Aunt Joanne) has with the racism embedded in the extended family. Violence perpetrated by police against black teens is highlighted, and it hits very close to home when one of Jilly's acquaintances is shot by police when she's jogging at night.

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What's the story?

In YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P!, Jilly's life as she knows it is about to change forever. One change is anticipated: Her mom's having a baby. The other changes are unforeseen. Her baby sister is born deaf, and her parents are struggling under the weight of this perceived challenge. But Jilly learns from her online friend -- who's also deaf -- that her family doesn't know the first thing about how proud you can be to be Deaf (with a capital D). There's a whole world of language and culture that's very different and exciting. Jilly also doesn't realize that her white family is affected by some very old racist beliefs. She's learning to navigate among people whose diversity matters, and whose differences might mean that their lives are in danger. 

Is it any good?

Courageous in the conversation it boasts, but disappointing in the lack of subtlety, this story is ultimately an exercise in addressing prejudices. Author Alex Gino is right: All families need to talk about the fact that teens of color are at a far higher risk of being shot by police than white kids. All families need to talk about how racism is part of American culture and that we need to look at our own prejudices and beliefs about other races and cultures. What is also clear is that Jilly gets shamed by her black friends for being "uncool" when she doesn't say exactly the right thing. She wants to have conversations about race and deafness, but finds she's walking on eggshells when she begins to talk. It's as though she's to blame for other people's feelings, which isn't empowering for her either.

Because much of what happens in You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! is summarized like a diary entry or an essay, the plot doesn't have a chance to blossom. Jilly's life is played out after school and online, and the richness of social interactions at school are missing. When she does meet an online friend in person, or when she experiences her first large protest in the company of her family, these moments feel real and good. Kids will enjoy the online chats about the fictional "Viidalia" trilogy that Jilly is obsessed with. But, like Jilly, they might rather immerse themselves in that fantasy world than a world where people are correcting others for their mistakes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Jilly learns to talk with her family about racism in You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! Does your family talk about how race plays a role in family members' lives? What experiences have you had? What do you do when someone makes a racist comment? What does Jilly learn? 

  • How does the media portray people of color? The author, Alex Gino, makes a point of describing every character's race and look, even waiters at restaurants and people on television. How conscious are you of how people look? Do you feel that the media represents people the way that they really are? What's different? 

  • Jilly meets kids in an online chat room associated with her favorite fantasy book. Do you visit chat rooms? What's safe behavior in a chat room? Why are Jilly's parents concerned? Should they be?

Book details

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