Unstuck -- Middle School Novel Review


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Middle school can be so hard. There are so many changes happening during this time. Barbara Dee captures so much of it and in her novels gives advice and ideas. I have shared many of her middle school novels over the years. My favorite being Maybe He Just Likes You which I honestly think every middle school student, teacher and parent should read! Today's novel is my close second favorite of Barbara Dee's works. The book is Unstuck. It is recommended for ages 9 to 13.

From the Publisher: 

From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a girl whose struggles with anxiety and writer’s block set off unexpected twists and turns, both on and off the page.

Lyla is thrilled when her seventh-grade English language arts class begins a daily creative writing project. For the past year, she’s been writing a brilliant fantasy novel in her head, and here’s her chance to get it on paper! The plot to Lyla’s novel is super complicated, with battle scenes and witches and a mysterious one-toed-beast, but at its core, it’s about an overlooked girl who has to rescue her beautiful, highly accomplished older sister.

But writing a fantasy novel turns out to be harder than simply imagining one, and pretty soon Lyla finds herself stuck, experiencing a panic she realizes is writer’s block. Part of the problem is that she’s trying to impress certain people—like Rania, her best friend who’s pulling away, and Ms. Bowman, the coolest teacher at school. Plus, there’s the pressure of meeting the deadline for the town writing contest. A few years ago, Lyla’s superstar teen sister Dahlia came in second, and this time, Lyla is determined to win first prize.

Finally, Lyla confides about her writing problems to Dahlia, who is dealing with her own academic stress as she applies to college. That’s when she learns Dahlia’s secret, which is causing a very different type of writer’s block. Can Lyla rescue a surprisingly vulnerable big sister, both on the page and in real life?

From Me: 

How can people get stuck? Writer's block, people's expectation, bad relationship, end of a relationship and moving on, a bad job, trauma, etc. In this book one might think of writer's block as what is sticking Lyla up but as you read the book it becomes apparent that there are many more things from friendships ending and beginning to family issues and watching her sister get stuck by the expectations of college and being successful. I love how this book goes through ways to get unstuck and to help others get unstuck. At the end of the book are twenty-five tips to get unstuck as well. 

I also love Lyla's character. She is a hurt and jealous middle schooler at first but throughout the book she grows. Her character is well written, and we see her compassion and empathy with those around her. From protecting her friends, to helping her sister and supporting her classmate who often seems too good at everything, we see how much Lyla truly cares. There is also many mentions of not understanding why people are bullies or why they can't just be nice to one another. Lyla learns in seventh grade how mean some people are and tries to help the underdog. She even brings more friends into her group. I also love how her friend, Noah, mentions how there is a difference in knowing a person at school and truly knowing a person. He suggests she look closer at some of the people, and she truly does this. 

There are so many interesting points and lessons in this book. I truly enjoyed reading it and believe kids will also love it. It is truly a book about middle school, changes, family, and how to be a good person. I can see this being a wonderful book for a middle school class to read and discuss as well as for a middle schooler to read on his or her own and realize that he or she is not alone in some of the feelings that so many middle schoolers go through. I hope you will check it out!