Something to Say
Eleven-year-old Jenae doesn’t have any friends—and she’s just fine with that. She’s so good at being invisible in school, it’s almost like she has a superpower, like her idol, Astrid Dane. At home, Jenae has plenty of company, like her no-nonsense mama; her older brother, Malcolm, who is home from college after a basketball injury; and her beloved grandpa, Gee.
Then a new student shows up at school—a boy named Aubrey with fiery red hair and a smile that won’t quit. Jenae can’t figure out why he keeps popping up everywhere she goes. The more she tries to push him away, the more he seems determined to be her friend. Despite herself, Jenae starts getting used to having him around.
But when the two are paired up for a class debate about the proposed name change for their school, Jenae knows this new friendship has an expiration date. Aubrey is desperate to win and earn a coveted spot on the debate team.
There’s just one problem: Jenae would do almost anything to avoid speaking up in front of an audience—including risking the first real friendship she’s ever had.
SOMETHING TO SAY captures the exact feeling of being different, and of both appreciating and valuing what makes you unique while also being kind of scared of it, especially in a setting like middle school where it seems like everyone's goal is to fit in. Kids with social anxiety will understand what Jenae feels each day and why it's so hard for her to speak in front of the class or an auditorium of people. It goes deeper than being just a little shy, and it takes more than just a little courage to speak up.
Jenae's growing friendship with Aubrey highlights ways you can grow with another person in your corner who can challenge and support you (and who can be in the same realm of 'unique' as you, so you don't feel quite so alone). One of the themes I love most about SOMETHING TO SAY is that it's never too late to speak up. If someone is doing something wrong, if someone has the chance to do something *right*, or if you yourself need to apologize or share your true feelings, you can speak up and do your best to bring honesty and heart to the table. It may not always work out, but sometimes it does. It's better to have taken the risk and been vulnerable when it matters than be silent when you have something to say.
The illustrations throughout the book gave me mixed feelings. The illustrations themselves are beautiful and do a fantastic job of capturing small details, like the references to Astrid Dane, and expression, like when Jenae is taking a selfie. However, Jenae is described as chubby multiple times (in a matter of fact way, not derogatory), but the Jenae in the illustrations is very thin. With such little fat positive body representation in middle grade books, it would have meant a lot to see the illustrations reflect the way the text describes Jenae.
Overall, SOMETHING TO SAY is a heartfelt, sincere, and important book. Jenae is someone you want to root for from page 1, and her journey can inspire courage in all readers to speak up when they have something to say.