Middle Grade Review: Susie B. Won't Back Down (Margaret Finnegan)


About This Book:

Roll with It meets Absolutely Normal Chaos in this funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president, told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president!

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure—no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.



*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

Fifth Grade Can Be Hard
Susie B. doesn't think it's fair that the OTHER Susan in class gets to be Soozee and she has to be Susie B., just because the other girl is a "usual genius" and she herself is not. When her class is assigned a hero for a project and instructed to write letters to this person describing not only the famous person, but their own life, Susie is happy to get Susan B. Anthony. We learn a bit about the famous women's rights activist, but also a lot about Susie. Even though she struggles a bit in school, and has a lot of impulse control issues, she is determined to run for student council president. Her main motivation is that she would then get to use the big microphone at assemblies, and she also decides on various occasions that she could use her office to abolish the five paragraph essay and to get people to help the polar bears. Not surprisingly, her campaign does not go smoothly, and it is further complicated when she finds out that Anthony had a lot of racist beliefs that Susie cannot support.
Good Points

Readers who enjoy flawed but outspoken characters like Parks' Junie B. Jones or Giff's Hollis Woods will appreciate Susie's misguided exuberance. She has very decided opinions about her classmates, thinking that some are "fake" and others get lots of advantages just because they turn in work on time and behave in class. Susie also struggles with her older brother, Lock, who is very bright at school and doesn't irritate their parents. Her parents are rather long suffering, but try their best to understand her.

Like many stories aimed at elementary readers, this includes lots of details about classroom activities and projects, and the dynamics between students as well as with various teachers. Susie starts the book with very clear ideas about what her classmates are like, but does change her opinions once she learns more about them.

Information about Susan B. Anthony, including discussions of her beliefs that are now problematic, will interest readers who like biographies and histories. Steve Jobs gets his share of information included as well. My school has certainly done biography projects before, and I haven't seen anything in middle grade fiction that addresses the idea that "heroes" might not automatically be perfect. This is a great concept to introduce.

Fifth grade is a pivotal time, as shown in books from DeClements' Nothing's Fair in the Fifth Grade (1981) to Winston's President of the Whole Fifth Grade (2010) to Shovan's The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (2018). Friendships realign, identities emerge, and boundaries are pushed. Young readers who are trying to navigate this difficult terrain will find it interesting to go along with Susie B. on her fifth grade ride.


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