Diet Soda Club

Diet Soda Club
Age Range
Release Date
October 08, 2024
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When their mom leaves, Reed must care for his sister who has a life-threatening condition—even if that means breaking the law. A tender and sparkling story about family, trust, and the lengths we will go to for the ones we love.

Have you ever made all the wrong choices for all the right reasons?

Reed Beckett’s little sister, Beatrice, has never been awakened by the smell of breakfast or a school-day alarm clock. Instead, she wakes to hospital beeps and poking doctors. Seventeen-year-old Reed has been there for Bea all along, especially since their dad died. But when their burned-out mom goes on an extended vacation with her new boyfriend, the siblings are left with only an empty pantry and each other. With no job prospects on the horizon, Reed begins making and selling fake IDs so he and Bea can survive. But the problems keep piling up, from an angry landlord demanding rent to looming medical bills. As Reed expands his business, taking increasingly bigger risks, the potential consequences for Reed’s future, Bea’s health, and Reed’s budding friendship with his classmate Helena become graver. But what choice does he have? The joy and complexity of both caregiving and sibling relationships are at the heart of this authentic and moving novel.

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Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons
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Fifteen years old Reed is in high school, and is a good student, but is involved in no sports or clubs because he spends all of his spare time hanging out with his sister Beatrice. She's been in and out of hospitals for all of her ten years because of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a condition that has left her unable to walk, and which results in frequent lung infections due to the curvature of her spine. Their father was killed in a car accident on his way to visit Beatrice in the hospital years ago, and their mother has not been a terribly effective parent since. She often works double shifts at the bar, and tries to keep up with all of Beatrice's needs, but it is Reed who makes sure that she is alone as little as possible. When the doctor tells the family that Beatrice needs surgery to correct her worsening scoliosis, but that it has to wait until she is over the latest infection, the mother can't handle it. She's started seeing Seth, whom she met at the bar, and is frequently hanging out at his apartment, while Reed has been sleeping at the hospital. Reed is struggling to keep up with his schoolwork (Beatrice sometimes helps, as she is precociously smart), and when he forgets his school I.D., he has to get a new one in the art room, where his former friend Helena seems to preside over the creation of this critical item. When Beatrice is to be released, Reed gets a call at school because the hospital can't find his mother. He skips school and takes a bus to get his sister, who can't be released until an adult signs for her. Luckily, his mother shows up. Beatrice is glad to be home, and for a while their mother makes an effort. One night, after the first home cooked meal in ages, she drops a bombshell: she's going away for the weekend with Seth. Reed will have to administer medication and breathing treatments, and take care of the two of them until Sunday night. Flabbergasted, Reed does what he has to, but his mother has left them with no food or money. When Sunday night rolls around, she is still not home, and tells Reed that there's money in her dresser, and that everything will be fine. Beatrice insists that she can be home alone, even though she can't even use the bathroom by herself. Reed reluctantly agrees, but e mails her multiple times during the day (he has a phone, but his sister is using his laptop). When their mother still doesn't come back, Reed gets desperate. After a chance encounter at their local convenience store, Reed decides to use the art printer to create fake I.D.s and sell them for $100 to classmates. At first, he manages to hide this from Helen, but as his mother doesn't return, the rent is due, and his concerns for his sister mount, he brings her in to his scheme, especially when it spills over into selling papers and test answers. Reed is able to cover necessities, as well as a hospital prepayment, and even drives the car illegally in order to meet Beatrice's needs. How long can he continue this lifestyle before someone needs to be told that his mother is not around?

Good Points
I'm a big fan of children who show resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and Reed's complete and utter devotion to his sister is definitely a change from the slew of anxious characters that have shown up in teen and tween literature lately. While he's sometimes misguided, he manages to keep things together even better than his mother does. This definitely takes an emotional toll on him, so it was good to see him reconnect with childhood friend Helena, and to watch her support him.

For teens, the big draw will be Reed's illegal activity, which will resonate with readers who like the unlikely exploits in books like Quigley's Bank or Zimmerman's Just Do This One Thing For Me. While I had a little problem believing that Reed could make a convincing I.D., I did like that he felt bad about creating and selling them, but felt he had no other choice. He also feels that they are being used for buying cigarettes and maybe a few beers; I was a little surprised that no one tried to get into venues that required identification. There are some realistic limits; since Reed is using school pictures, he has to deny clients who look very young and wouldn't be convincing.

Beatrice's condition is serious, but she is also upbeat, although she does have her breaking point. Her hacking activity is interesting, and I wondered how she got her computer skills, since Reed has been the one who is essentially home schooling her. Her SMA is certainly what drives a lot of the plot, but is just one facet of the person she is.

While it also seemed odd that children's services never got involved, especially after Reed's arrest at the end of the book, young readers won't know all of the technicalities, and will just be glad to see that things seem to be on an upwards trend for Reed and his family at the end of the book. This is a great addition to tales of children surviving against the odds, along with Walter's The King of Jam Sandwich's Rudd's How to Stay Invisible, and Florence, and Scrimger's The Other Side of Perfect. It reminded me a bit of an updated, older version of Williams' The True Colors of Caitlyn Jackson (1997).
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