Today Marshmallow reviews Dear Student by Elly Swartz, published in February 2022.
The book bunnies received this book as a review copy.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about family, friendship, and school, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Autumn Blake’s father left her, her sister, and her mother to work in the Peace Corps. He wanted to “seize the day”, but Autumn doesn’t see why he has to go to Ecuador with the Peace Corps to do so. Now she, her sister Pickle, and her mother are living without her father.
Her father is not the only important person who has left Autumn. Her best friend Prisha has also just moved to California. So Autumn is starting middle school without a good friend.
The book starts on the first day of school. Autumn is starting sixth grade and neither her father nor her best friend will be there. But it turns out that the first day is still quite eventful.
On that first day of school, a boy runs over an iguana’s tail. Autumn and the boy, named Cooper, take the iguana to the veterinarian. Autumn’s mom is the vet, and she starts to try to save the iguana. Autumn then starts spending time with Cooper every day at lunch, and they become friends quickly. They decide to do a whoopie pie stand to raise money to take care of Cooper’s dog, Mr. Magoo.
On that first day of school, Autumn also makes friends with a girl named Logan. Logan’s mother is a famous human rights lawyer. Logan is nice, but Autumn feels that everything she does is forced: her smile, her words, her agreements.
Unfortunately, Logan dislikes Cooper. She thinks he is weird. Autumn starts to have trouble choosing between which friend she will spend time with.
On top of this, Autumn has become the writer of Dear Student, the famous advice column in the student paper, following the advice her dad gave on her first day to “do one thing”. Her job is to respond to questions sent anonymously by students, and her own identity is also to be kept secret. But one piece of advice she gives ends up forcing her to choose between her two friends. Will she be able to make it through with both her friends?
Marshmallow’s Review: Dear Student is a great book and a quick read. Written in fifty-four short chapters, it tells us a compelling story about friendship, family, and finding one’s voice.
The character Autumn is a nice person (her mom calls her “a gentle spirit”) and a great sister. She is relatable and she has a realistic personality. The other characters are also very realistic.
I think the author Ella Swartz did a great job of showing Autumn’s dilemma in the book and also her confusion and hurt about her father’s departure. The whole story is told through Autumn’s perspective (except for the student letters she reads and responds to, the postcards from her dad, and the messages from her friend Prisha), and in the present tense, and both these help make Autumn and her feelings come across as very real and almost urgent.
Ella Swartz’s Dear Student does not have a big mystery like Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me or any of the FunJungle books, but when I was reading it, I still wanted to read on to find out how things would turn out. The plot is not completely predictable and keeps you wanting to read further. The central dilemma of the book involves animal rights, just like in Hoot, but in Dear Student, we get a human dimension, too, complicating the issue further.
I thought that the questions addressed to the Dear Student column were sometimes related to how Autumn was feeling, which worked really well. And the column responses give the reader good advice on all types of topics. It was also neat to see a reference to a book Caramel read and reviewed before: Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat.
All in all I really enjoyed reading Dear Student. I look forward to trying the whoopie pie recipe at the end of the book…
Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.