Facing Middle School Loneliness Across a Digitial Scrabble Board
At first Charlotte and Ben are just two kids who love words and who chat and challenge each other over an online Scrabble game. They are separated by a thousand miles, Charlotte in Pennsylvania and Ben in Louisiana and they don't seem to have much in common. Charlotte loves geology and the rabbit holes of information she finds on the internet. Ben loves Presidential history, Harry Potter and Recycling. They're both lonely but they don't know just how lonely until they each face challenges in their family.
Charlotte's father has a heart attack and her best, and only, friend Bridget decides to move away to a new clique. Ben can't believe his parents are divorcing and decides in a bold, and completely out of character move, to run for student council, even though he knows no one at his school and has no friends.
Told across a week, and alternating between Charlotte and Ben, You Go First is the story of two earnest and endearing characters trying to understand their changing landscapes, both the mundane changes of middle school and the personal catastrophic changes in their families. With the exception of the denoument, the isolation and bullying Charlotte and Ben face is mundane and recognizable, and as such, rings completely true and is sharply painful. Charlotte trips and spills her lunch. Ben gets his head whacked against the lockers by a bigger kid. Kelly is also careful to capture the indifference of the other students. As Charlotte and Ben stumble through their small humilations they each reflect that one lends a hand, helps them up, or even asks if they are ok.
Smartly, Kelly avoids turning the long distance friendship into a truth telling session. Like people in digital friendships the world over, Ben and Charlotte avoid talking about the troubles in their homes and their loneliness, and exaggerate their happiness and success. Yet they are the only friend they each have.
You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly
(c) 2018 Greenwillow Books
Perfect of Middle Grade readers ages 9-12. Addresses bullying, divorce, ageging parents and social isolation.