Dear Sweet Pea
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.
Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.
What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Sweet Pea is also going through a lot because her parents divorced after her father came out as gay. Instead of changing too much, her father bought a house a couple houses over and made it look almost exactly like the other house. Sweet Pea travels back and forth between them in ways that don't always make sense to her.
Her neighbor across the street runs a locally famous advice column. When she goes out of town, she asks Sweet Pea to help her with receiving the mail and sending out her responses. Sweet Pea takes this job very seriously. However, when she sees a letter from her former best friend, she decides to take things into her own hands, launching a whole new set of problems and starting some new problems with her current best friend, Oscar.
What I loved: While the main plot was cute, comical, and full of normal school-aged drama, the subplots really shone through, including the power of words (e.g. saying gay when you mean bad) and body positivity (similarly recognizing fat-shaming). There was also some interesting points about your parents having lives and taking care of themselves also (with the example of being told to put on their oxygen masks first on a plane). I also loved the advice column inclusion, and the advice being given- this was really fun, and I would totally be up for a sequel.
What left me wanting more: As a relatively small point, I would have liked a bit more to the backstory about Kiera and Sweet Pea reuniting- Kiera did and said some really hurtful things, and I felt like this should have been pulled out a bit more (as in, it's not okay to make fun of someone in order to bond with others). Though, seeing this happen from Sweet Pea's perspective does allow kids to get this message indirectly.
Final verdict: Overall charming and cute, DEAR SWEET PEA is a great read about self-acceptance, friendship, and giving advice/keeping secrets. This is a solid and well-paced read for the middle grade crowd.