Note: the design of this cover cannot be ignored; it is fantastic and iconic. Congrats to the designers at Penguin. The spot gloss varnish on the matte background is a great touch.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt has crafted a beautiful story about being “that kid”, the one for whom the expectations are low, and who retreats into her own world to keep the real one at a distance. Ally sees in pictures. Words are nearly impossible to decipher; so she doesn’t try. With the help of a great teacher, who begins to crack her code, Ally starts opening up to the idea that maybe there’s more to herself than she realized. It’s a powerful realization, and one that so many kids will relate to.
Through the course of the story, Ally finds and connects with other kids who accept her and see beyond the attempts at distancing herself from them. Ally’s allies, Albert and Keisha, feel very real to me. Their bond of friendship helps Ally realize that she has much to offer, and it bolsters the trio against the sideways glances and smack talk of some of the other kids, like Shay.
The author has effectively put into words that claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to HAVE to stay one step ahead of being figured out and labeled as dumb. That crushing feeling- that need to stay under the radar, or even be deemed problematic, instead of the world finding out the truth, feels so real here.
Mr. Daniels is the teacher who sees beyond the front Ally has put up. He knows something is up with this girl, and refuses to let her go under the radar. We discover that Ally is actually dyslexic, and that it is a workable condition. The more Ally understands this, the more empowered she is. And her friends help her through it all.
Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Mr. Daniels in their lives. A good teacher can literally be a turning point in a struggling student’s life. I know I had a few teachers like that- the ones who saw the person before the grade. They are the real unsung heroes in the ever-changing and difficult school landscape, and this story shines a light on them.
“Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.”
So true. This story is a good reminder for folks of all ages, really, to look beyond the surface and see the potential in every person.