Middle Grade Review: Violets Are Blue (Barbara Dee)



About This Book:

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?


*Review Contributed by, Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

Sensitive Treatment of Current Problem
Renata is going into seventh grade and loves to create special effects with make up, many of which she learns from YouTubers like Cat FX. This takes her mind off of her parents fighting, and her problems with friends at school. When her parents finally divorce and her father moves to New York with Vanessa, her mother, a nurse, decides to take a job in nearby Donwood. The two get a smaller place, and Renata, who decides to go by “Wren” gets a fresh start at school. Wren settles in fairly well at her new school and makes friends with Poppy, who is intrigued by her make up skills. When the school play ends up being Wicked, Poppy encourages Wren to work on the crew so that she can do Elphaba’s make up. Unfortunately, that role goes to Avery, who is very cool towards Wren and makes fun of her and Kai, whom Avery claims has a crush on Wren. Wren visits her father fairly frequently, and finds out that Vanessa is pregnant with twins. Vanessa is nice to Wren, and interested in art, so sends a lot of cosmetics to Wren. Since her mother doesn’t want to hear anything about her father’s new life, Wren hides everything from her mother. Her mother is having a hard time with her back and knees, and frequently is out sick from work. Another nurse, Krystal, often stops by to check on Kelly, Wren’s mom.
Good Points
It is much more realistic to have tweens navigating the reality of splitting time between households than dealing with the death of a parent, and it’s more interesting, too. While it’s a bit of a relief not to hear her parents fighting, Wren misses her father, as well as family time. It’s also good to see a book where a child moves and the house is NOT haunted! Many students start new schools because parents have to move for new places to live or new jobs, and Wren’s experience in finding new friends is realistically rocky, but she does make friends. Her love of make up is interesting, and the way she learns new techniques and gets supplies makes sense. School plays always include lots of drama, and I liked her interactions with Kai a lot. The slow slide that her mother takes into addiction, as well as how Wren hides this from people who could help her, is especially well done. Dee’s writing is always solid, and she covers an array of hard topics in age appropriate ways. I think my favorite thing about the book might be the fact that Wren is left on her own to take care of herself a lot. This is something that isn’t shown a lot in books, but which is a reality for many of my students.

I wish that Wren had reached out to other adults in her around her; while this is absolutely true to life and compelling in the way she didn’t reach out, it would have been a good message for young readers who might be in similar circumstances if they had seen a character in a book identify people to whom she could talk. Krystal was a great help eventually, but I wish that Wren had been shown reaching out to someone in her life. It’s what we try to teach students at my school– identify a “trusted adult” at school and let that person know, just so that if something happens, it might be easier to mention it.

It’s always good to see books about tweens who have a passion for some activity, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen one about special effects make up! Dee’s work is popular in my library, and this has just the right blend of school and home drama. The opioid epidemic shows no sign of slowing down, and so a range of books about students dealing with this is needed. Definitely purchasing. Add this to the slowly growing list of novels where tweens are affected by addiction like Messner’s The Seventh Wish, Campbell’s The Rule of Threes, Petro-Roy’s Life in the Balance, Bishop’s Where We Used to Roam, Hopkins’ What About Will, and Walters’ The King of the Jam Sandwiches.


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