Still a Work in Progress

Still a Work in Progress
Age Range
Release Date
August 02, 2016
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Noah is just trying to make it through seventh grade. The girls are confusing, the homework is boring, and even his friends are starting to bug him. Not to mention that his older sister, Emma, has been acting pretty strange, even though Noah thought she'd been doing better ever since the Thing They Don't Talk About. The only place he really feels at peace is in art class, with a block of clay in his hands. As it becomes clear through Emma's ever-stricter food rules and regulations that she's not really doing better at all, the normal seventh-grade year Noah was hoping for begins to seem pretty unattainable. In an affecting and realistic novel with bright spots of humor, Jo Knowles captures the complexities of navigating middle school while feeling helpless in the face of a family crisis.

Editor review

1 review
Sequin cat vests... and serious issues
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
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Noah's seventh grade year at his small school starts off a bit tense-- his friend Sam has left a tuna fish sandwich in his locker, boys are standing on the toilets to get in and out of the stall without unlocking the door (no one knows why, exactly), he's worried about the bigger kids giving him a hard time, and he and hid friends are trying their hands at asking girls out. Noah has bigger problems, too. His sister Emma had an unspecified issue last year, and he thinks it has returned, although his parents are so busy worrying about her vegan diet that they don't seem to notice. As the school year progresses, there is a school dance, Thanksgiving drama, Secret Santa difficulties, and a culmination of Emma's problems, which impact Noah's life considerably.
Good Points
I was expecting a straight forward, humorous school story with this one, but it ended up being an interesting issue novel involving anorexia. The cover, and the beginning anecdotes, all have gross, middle school humor such as the rotten tuna sandwich, a hairless school cat who wears pink sequined vests and gets into all kinds of scrapes, and anxiety about talking to the opposite sex (complete with glimpses of *gasp* a bra). Told in a standard, linear school year fashion, this will be an easy sell to readers who like funny stories that adhere fairly closely to their own experiences.

There are some unusual quirks to the small school that will seem exotic to many readers. There are community meetings where students are asked about things like why people are standing on the toilets and what can be done to stop this from happening. Seventh graders are reading Lord of the Flies and then A Separate Peace, which are usually high school texts. Most schools no longer have Secret Santa exchanges, and some schools even lack the art classes at which Noah excels.

The real stand out of this book is the unexpected inclusion of Emma's struggles with anorexia. While I had my suspicions after Emma's style of dress was described (three layers of sweaters and always being cold is rather a giveaway), Noah's narrative leaves the reader guessing until quite far in the book. While we see more of how this problem affects Noah instead of the progress Emma is making at her care facility, there are probably far more siblings affected by anorexia than there are people themselves affected, and there isn't as much in the literature from that perspective.

While Still a Work in Progress is a great addition to eating disorder books such as Anderson's Wintergirls, Lytton's Jane in Bloom and Levenkron's classic 1978 The Best Little Girl in the World, the mix of humor and problems will find an audience with readers of books like Weeks' Guy Time, Acampora's Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face and Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt.
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