Middle Grade Review: Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai (Debbi Michiko Florence)



About This Book:

Fans of Lisa Greenwald and Wendy Mass are sure to fall head-over-heels for this funny, sweet story of crushes, competition, and the confusing reality of middle school.
“Heartbreak is for suckers.” — Jenna Sakai

When Jenna gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what she learned from her parents’ messy divorce: Relationships are risky and only lead to disappointment. So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend Elliott at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this semester — no boys, just books.

But keeping her cool isn’t always easy. Jenna’s chief competition for a big journalism scholarship is none other than Elliott. Her best friend Keiko always seems busy with her own boyfriend. And cute-but-incredibly-annoying Rin Watanabe keeps stealing her booth at the diner she’s been hiding at every day after school. Rin is every bit as stubborn and detached as Jenna. And the more Jenna gets to know him, the more intriguing a mystery he seems. Soon Jenna is starting to realize that being a loner is kind of, well, lonely. And letting people in might just be a risk worth taking.


*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling*

Companion Book to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
Jenna, who is friends with Keiko Carter, is dealing with a few issues in her life. Her father and mother have recently divorced, and her father has moved to Texas. Her mother is pushing her to do better in school so that she can get scholarships, which makes sense, since Jenna has overheard her mother telling an aunt that the child support agreement doesn’t cover college. Jenna has also broken up with her boyfriend, Elliott, who worked on the school newspaper with her. Since they hung out a lot, she had neglected Keiko a bit, but Keiko is now spending a lot of time with her boyfriend, Connor, and his friends. Jenna and Keiko make an effort to reconnect, and Jenna throws herself into a newspaper club contest, looking for something to investigate. She finds a new, quiet spot to hang out after school, Leigh’s Stage Diner, and has a favorite booth where she has a roasted strawberry milkshake and, when she can afford it, cheese fries. When Rin Wantanabe shows up in HER booth, she is not happy, but the two start grudgingly hanging out. Jenna’s friend Isabelle has decided not to do an investigative piece on why a million dollar donation was spent on the school cafeteria, so Jenna picks it up and starts to look into it. Things continue with Rin, who likes to draw, although Jenna is not pleased when he offers to pay for some of her food, and the two seem to argue a lot. When Jenna finds out that Rin’s family has a connection to the donation, tensions increase. At the same time, Jenna’s father wants to come back into her life, and Jenna feels her steely resolve to not let anyone into her life dissolving. Will she be able to write a good piece for the contest AND maintain her friendships?
Good Points
Jenna is struggling to balance all of her activities and friendships, and also has to take care of herself; her mother does want texts from her, but she is allowed a bit more leeway in where she goes, although she is still not allowed to use the stove. It’s good to see the parameters that actual tweens have to deal with represented in literature! Jenna’s attitude that she should lock her feelings away is balanced by the very on-trend attempts by Keiko to get her friend to open up. There aren’t a lot of books that deal with EX-boyfriends, so it was interesting to see how Jenna dealt with Elliott still being around her at school. The diner was a fun setting, and reading this made me REALLY hungry for a strawberry milkshake.

There aren’t a lot of books involving school newspapers, so this is good to see. I’m not sure how many middle schools still HAVE newspapers, but perhaps this will encourage someone to start one. There is always a need for books involving light romances and friend drama,and fans of the Scholastic Wish books and the SWIRL novels will love this, especially since it involves milk shakes!

I love the fact that this is a companion to Keep it Together, Keiko Carter, but doesn’t have to be read with it. It reminds me a bit of Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Emily Ebers, and Stanford Wong, which all focus on different friends, or Claudia Mills’ After School Super Stars.




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