Just Do This One Thing for Me

Just Do This One Thing for Me
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Release Date
August 27, 2023
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Hilarious, heartbreaking, and sneaky suspenseful, Just Do This One Thing for Me is a timely novel about a rule-following daughter trying to hold her family together after her scammer mother disappears.

“Just do this one thing for me.” Drew's mother says it more often than good morning. Heidi Hill has been juggling shady side hustles for all of Drew’s seventeen years, and Drew knows that “one thing” really means all the necessary things her mother thinks are boring, including taking care of her fifteen-year-old sister and eight-year-old brother. In fact, Drew is the closest thing to a responsible adult they’ve ever known. When their mother disappears on the way to a New Year’s Eve concert in Mexico and her schemes start unraveling, Drew is faced with a choice: Follow the rules, do the responsible thing, and walk away--alone--from her mother's mess. Or hope the weather stays cold, keep the cons going, and just maybe hold her family together.

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Drew's mother, Heidi, leaves a lot to be desired as a mother. Her main source of income is to review products she gets for free and then sells, but she also has child support for Drew's younger brother Lachlan (under the guise of working for the orthodontist who is Lock's real father), and illegal Social Security payments for her mother, Sharon, who has been dead for several years. She splits these with her even sketchier sister, Krystal. Heidi is not overly interested in raising Drew, Lock, or middle sister Carna, and leaves most of the details of child and house care to Drew, who is a senior in high school and is counting the days until she can escape to the University of Wisconsin. When Heidi gets tickets to go to a Justin Timberlake concert in Mexico, she has no qualms about leaving the kids for a week, and Drew is used to it. The three kids spend Christmas with the girl's father, Malcolm, and his girlfriend Stephanya. When it turns out that her mother's flight was canceled, Drew is a little worried that she isn't in touch, but there are other distractions. Krystal has tried to fill a prescription for marijuana muffins in the grandmother's name, which has alerted the authorities, and an agent shows up asking to speak to the grandmother and Heidi. Drew manages to put him off. When Carna comes across Heidi's body in the garage, the girls are not quite sure what to do. Drew knows that if they alert the authorities, the kids will be split up, and since she has been dealing with most of the parental chores, and the weather is freezing, they decide not to tell anyone about Heidi's death, which seems to have been caused by a free hazelnut latte. (Heidi was allergic, but cavalier about it.) It's not easy to pretend to the world that Heidi is still alive; it involves putting off the investigative agent, texting Heidi's friends as if she were alive, and going to school while trying to run Heidi's internet review business. As time passes, Drew manages to find someone to cremate Heidi's body and not say anything; they pay him enough money from a stash of Heidi's stowed in a gun cabinet that he would be in trouble if anyone found out. Drew has a boyfriend, Darden, who is occasionally useful, and with whom she doesn't want to split, and he's another level of complexity. Things go along well for a while, but can't go on forever. When the investigative agent manages to get some real dirt on Heidi, it propels the girls into staging Heidi's death and relying on unexpected resources to continue to be together.

Good Points
I've read a couple of middle grade novels about children covering up dead relatives (Pennypacker's 2012 The Summer of the Gypsy Moths, and Jones' 2021 Six Feet Below) that didn't seem believable for various reasons. This is definitely a Young Adult novel, based on the frequent use of the f-word, but the fact that Drew turns 18 during the book does help make this seem more realistic. It was also a good inclusion to portray Heidi as a loving but completely self centered mother who had relied on Drew for far too long. Even the fact that she didn't take her own hazelnut allergy seriously made me feel much better about her death, and the girls' refusal to tell anyone about it. Zimmerman cleverly thought through ALL the details.

It was heartbreaking that Lock is just eight, and that Drew is completely devoted to making sure he doesn't realize how unstable their home life was with their mother, and the lengths she goes to to insure that he always feels loved and wanted. Carna's sullenness and small acts of defiance (she gets a tattoo) also are perfectly drawn; she knows that the most likely outcome for her is to go live with Malcolm out in the woods, which would be most unpleasant.

The adults who deal with the children are all half a bubble off; their father isn't very interested in them; their aunt is involved in two many illegalities of her own, and Lock's father has never even seen his son. Darden's family tries to help, but can't possibilty understand Dew's difficult circumstances. A greatly misguided guidance counselour, who is not helpful to Drew's college application process, ends up unwittingly finding a solution to keeping the family together! I very much enjoyed the fact that these individuals were never depicted as being terrible people, just people whose own lives seemed to be working at cross purposes to Drew's!

I loved Zimmerman's My Eyes Are Up Here, but I can't quite think of other Young Adult Titles that have this exact amalgamation of circumstances. Killborn's Safe Harbor, Walters' King of Jam Sandwiches, or Paulsen's memoir Gone to the Woods have a similar blend of dire family circumstances and teenage resiliency and initiative. There was something about Just Do This One Thing For Me that was tremendously interesting, and I'm sure it will be a huge hit with high school readers.
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