Naked Mole Rat Saves the World
Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.
It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening—whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.
A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed—both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?
Kit actually hates being called that, as she has told her BFF, Clem. Clem and her brother Jorge frequently hang out with kit, and they are part of an acrobatic family act. Until, that is, Clem falls onstage and is injured during the show The Most Talented Family in America. Since then, Clem has been different. Since then, kit has been having panic attacks, where she thinks she is actually turning into a naked mole rat and which she worries will become like her mother's.
They are all on the cusp of being teenagers, and this also brings its own challenges and changes. Navigating school and their home lives is hard enough- adding on the friendship troubles may be too much.
What I loved: The book portrays mental illness in a way that is understandable for the middle grade audience, and I think this was done well (depression, anxiety in particular). Kit and her friends are really relatable, and their struggles will certainly help children to empathize. The book is fast-paced and engaging to read. The plot carries forward easily and is certainly intriguing with many interesting bits about changes and challenges of growing up and dealing with friendship evolutions. Kit also acknowledges that hurt people hurt people, which is a real piece of wisdom that can be imparted on the reader and also help them to empathize with others.
What left me wanting more: While there is good representation and portrayal of people with mental illnesses, these are not really visibly treated (particularly for Clem who is struggling with depression and not sure how to reach out for help). It would have been great to see more about therapy or treatments, and/or at least to see Clem figure out a way to ask for help.
Final verdict: Overall, this was an engaging and fun read, perfect for the middle grade audience. Recommend for readers looking for a heartfelt book about growing up, dealing with mental illness, and navigating evolving friendships.