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Release Date
February 27, 2024
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Lyla is thrilled when her seventh-grade English language arts class begins a daily creative writing project. For the past year, she’s been writing a brilliant fantasy novel in her head, and here’s her chance to get it on paper! The plot to Lyla’s novel is super complicated, with battle scenes and witches and a mysterious one-toed-beast, but at its core, it’s about an overlooked girl who has to rescue her beautiful, highly accomplished older sister.

But writing a fantasy novel turns out to be harder than simply imagining one, and pretty soon Lyla finds herself stuck, experiencing a panic she realizes is writer’s block. Part of the problem is that she’s trying to impress certain people—like Rania, her best friend who’s pulling away, and Ms. Bowman, the coolest teacher at school. Plus, there’s the pressure of meeting the deadline for the town writing contest. A few years ago, Lyla’s superstar teen sister Dahlia came in second, and this time, Lyla is determined to win first prize.

Finally, Lyla confides about her writing problems to Dahlia, who is dealing with her own academic stress as she applies to college. That’s when she learns Dahlia’s secret, which is causing a very different type of writer’s block. Can Lyla rescue a surprisingly vulnerable big sister, both on the page and in real life?

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1 review
Middle School Writer's Block
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Lyla is struggling in 7th grade; her best friend from elementary school, Rania, attends Dickinson Middle School, while Lyla attends Whitman. Lyla still hasn't found a new friend, but does eat lunch every day with Journey, a quirky girl who is very interested in animals and a bit less interested in Lyla's concerns. Lyla's older sister, Dahlia, is a senior in high school, and struggling with writing her college application essays, which causes a lot of friction between her sister and her parents. This also causes Lyla to feel that her parents don't really care about her. For her language arts class, her favorite teacher, Ms. Bowman, is having the students do whatever creative writing makes them happy, and this is a bright spot in Lyla's world because she has a fascinating and complicated fantasy novel she is working on. She has the most amazing first sentence, character studies, names, and even maps... but she can't get beyond that first sentence. She envies others in her class, like Stella, who seems to churn out writing effortlessly. She becomes very stressed with the whole process, especially since she wants to enter-- and win!-- a local writing contest that Dahlia had done well in when she was in middle school. Not only that, but she feels disconnected from Raina. When the two finally plan a sleepoever, Lyla is disappointed that some of Raina's new friends from the track team at her school are also there. Lyla really wants to discuss her story with Raina to help figure out the direction she should take, but when she talks about it briefly, she comes across as bragging, since Raina's new friends make her feel less accomplished. The tensions at home increase, and Dahlia confides in her that she doesn't want to go to college right away, but is afraid to tell her parents. Not only that, but she is failing some of her courses! She begs Lyla not to tell, which puts her in a difficult position. When Lyla finds out that Raina's new friends bullied Journey so much that her parents pulled her out of school and homeschooled her, Lyla wants to confront her old friend, but isn't sure quite how to approach the topic, especially since the two rarely talk. As her stress levels rise, Ms. Bowman tries to help, having the whole class do free writing, letting Lyla go to the library for a change of scenery, and letting her know that all writers occasionally struggle and that Lyla should be kind to herself and "write her feelings". This helps, and Lyla begins to work on her story, using it as a way to process her emotions about what is going on in her life. Dee includes 25 tips for writers at the end of the book.

Good Points
Dee is always on trend with issue of friendship, mental health, and family dynamics; in fact, she may set the trends. Dahlia's college application process is no doubt exactly what many post-pandemic high schoolers are going through right now. Who knew that gap years were even an option? The fact that the parents are supportive but also really irritated with her is perfect. Ms. Bowman is a great teacher (and also plays bass in a rock band!), and will be a big draw for adult readers who love her approach to the writing process. The friend drama is definitely on point for today's tweens as well; everyone loses at least one friend during middle school, and when you only HAVE one friend, it is especially devastating. There is a nice balance of the different plot threads.

If you are looking for a novel that packs an emotional punch and centers around middle grade feelings of anxiety, this is the one for you. It's a good choice for readers who are working on their own fantasy novel, or who enjoyed Baptist's Isaiah Dunn Saves the Day or Mills' Write This Down.
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