Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Comic-Novel Hybrid
Abbie Wu has always been the “middle” of her family. She’s the second child of three, unexceptional academically, and mediocre at pretty much everything she does. Now, on the cusp of sixth grade, she’s entering the worst middle of all: middle school.
She ends up in study hall because she can’t decide on any other elective to take, and she loses hope as her two best friends since kindergarten start drifting away. They’ve obviously found their “Thing,” their talent and hobby that will take them to the stars. Why can’t Abbie seem to find hers?
But the school year is just beginning, and soon enough Abbie will find herself at the center of one of the greatest controversies her school has ever seen. Say what you will about middle school, but at least it’s not predictable!
Okay, let’s try for a real review now that I’ve got that out of my system.
This book is perfect for new middle-school students, especially ones who either a) hate reading or b) are struggling readers. It’s very much like a comic in that there is a low text-to-image ratio per page, but there are still sentences and paragraphs of prose on each one, as well. Ideally it would be read before school starts, with the hope that it could lead to discussions about what to expect.
On the other hand, that could be a problem for kids who tend to be more introverted or socially anxious…sort of like Abbie herself. Abbie gets nervous and worked up to the point of not sleeping and mild panic attacks because she’s so scared of what middle school will be like. If you know a kid like that it’s probably better to read it with them so you can discount some of the scary things or find another book for them to read instead. I wouldn’t normally recommend that, but having been an anxious kid myself, I think this book would have intensified my fear as the school year approached.
Even so, once Abbie actually starts school, everything is…well, not better, but it’s not as bad as she thought it would be. The conflict about her friends finding their “Thing” that makes them special and that they love to do was relatable and done in a way that will make sense to many readers. I’ve definitely had students who, when asked what they do best, get this look of terror in their eyes because they genuinely don’t know what they’re good at. Abbie would really resonate with these kids. I especially liked the message from Abbie’s older brother, Peter, at the end. He basically tells her that she doesn’t need to be the best at something now, and the things she loves and is talented in can change over the years. It’s true! I see it happen all the time with my students, especially in middle school. They discover hidden talents because they have more opportunities to try things or decide they’re tired of some sport or activity they’ve been doing for years. Telling kids it’s okay if they’re not sure what they like is a great message.
Also great was the art. The drawings were adorable, and they really helped move the story along. Vivat managed to convey a wide range of expressions through a few simple lines, and I was impressed as I read. Her use of a variety of lettering sizes and styles gave the conversation drawings a realism, particularly when the characters were feeling an extreme emotion. As I was reading those specific speech bubbles, I could hear the different emphases through the filter of whatever emotion the author was hoping to convey. It was a pleasant surprise, since many authors tend to just use the comic segments for a quick laugh.
My only problems with this book were the ending (too quick, not enough of a satisfactory resolution) and the setup for the lunchroom conflict. I don’t object to the conflict itself, even though it seems strange that it would exist in the first place (what kind of middle school doesn’t have lunch monitors?). It’s just that it seemed to come from nowhere. I actually flipped back in the book to make sure I hadn’t missed some rule that had been mentioned in an off-hand way. I found nothing. While Vivat handled it well, I wish there had been some sort of lead up to it…even a poster on the wall in one of the first cafeteria drawings would have been nice. Some little hint so it didn’t seem to appear from left field. But somehow, I doubt kids will mind much about that.
This adorable book has a lot going for it, and the positive aspects definitely outweigh the negative. A good book for family or in-class read-alouds, too.
- Incoming middle-school students, regardless of grade
- Struggling readers
- People looking for something fun and fluffy
- Bullying: some kids bully others
- Deceit: one entire subplot is about being sneaky
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Supremacy: some characters believe that they’re better than others and behave in a rude manner because of it
- Change vs. Tradition
- Growing Up
|Exploration of Conflict||2|
|Consideration of Themes||2|
|Suspension of Disbelief||1|
|Imagery and Description||2|
|Rhythm and Pace of Book||2|
|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|