Review Detail

Timely Family Problems
(Updated: May 13, 2020)
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Lydia lives in an apartment in New York with her mom and her cousin, Emma. Emma's mother, who was African-American, passed away and her father, who is white, is considered "unsafe", so Emma feels that this is just a temporary placement. Lydia's dad lives nearby and has visitation two days a week, and her mother has a boyfriend, Jeremy. When the mother buys a dilapidated house to fix up, she doesn't tell Jeremy about it. Lydia finds the house deliciously creepy, and does a lot of work on it to help her mother out, but Emma doesn't help because she claims she will never have to live there. The house is just a few blocks from the apartment, so the girls can continue on at their Catholic school. This, however, is a problem for Lydia. In 6th grade, the boys started calling her "Swing" because of the way her skirts moves over her legs, and have subjected her to pointed stares and unwanted comments. The teachers don't take any of her concerns seriously. Lydia also feels uncomfortable around Jeremy,who hugs a second too long, brings the girls candy they are supposed to keep secret from the mother, and generally makes Lydia feel creeped out. To deal with both of these issues, she has taken to wearing baggy sweatpants and shirts even though it is summer vacation. Once, when Emma and her mother go to visit Emma's father, Lydia is supposed to stay with Jeremy. Her father is too busy to watch her, so she calls Miriam, a former best friend with whom she has had a falling out. Miriam invites Lydia over for a sleep over, and the two slowly reconnect. While renovating the house, Lydia finds a "spell book" and empty toilet paper rolls in every room of the house. The writer of the book, Pan, details a number of spells, including one for protection, that involve flowers, scented oils, and wearing the toilet roll under ones clothing. Lydia is sure that this is working, but still panics from time to time. When a boy at school snaps her bra strap, Lydia snaps as well, screaming in the middle of class. She's sent to the principal's office and hopes that her complaints will finally be heard, but instead, the nun accuses Lydia of bringing the devil and magic into the school, because of the toilet paper rolls. Lydia gets in trouble at home, and this, along with support from Miriam and Emma, is finally enough to get her to tell her mother about what is going on at school and with Jeremy.
Good Points
Like Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You, this is realistically done. Lydia's experiences of being harassed, sharing limited information with adults, being rebuffed, and then spiraling into a very bad place make sense. Jeremy is creepy but doesn't actually step over any real lines until the end of the story, and Emma feels the same way. Once the mother finds out about both issues, she supports Lydia completely. Emma's father is in rehab for drugs, and her emotions about not wanting to become invested in the house ring true. The house itself is quirkily interesting, and the protective spells will certainly speak to readers who are Lydia's age.

I was a little surprised that the mother hadn't picked up on Lydia's plight earlier, since she later shares that she was accosted by a relative when young, and surprised that the school didn't take things more seriously. I also would have like a bit more information about the principal's family connection to Lydia's house.

Books like this are important to show them that they need to do this in order for things to change. Lydia's experiences will help readers understand how insidious harrassment can be, but also give them tools to help in case they ever experience it themselves. It's sad that these issues still exist, but they do. Even twenty years ago, I told my daughters that no one was allowed to make them feel uncomfortable and that I would support them if anyone did; this kind of empowerment needs to filter into every section of the population, and books like this can help that happen.
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