You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P – Middle Grade Book Recommendation

Title: YOU DON’T KNOW everything, JILLY P!

Author: Alex Gino

Publisher: Scholastic, March 2018

Ages: 9-12

Themes: LGBTQIA+, lesbians, bigotry, racism, deafness, online communities, families, micro-aggressions, white privilege, ableism, ASL, hearing loss, police brutality

Opening: 

The house smells of homemade tomato sauce when I get home from school, a sure sign that dad is cooking dinner. Mom lies on the couch, her laptop propped on her knees. A line of belly-white skin stretches between the bottom of her shirt and the waistline of her pants. My baby-sister is inside, just waiting to join us out here. Mom has shoulder-length copper hair, a small nose, and light brown eyes. I look a lot like her, but my hair is longer an I’m not pregnant.

Synopsis:

Jilly thinks she’s figured out how life works. But when her sister Emma is born Deaf, she realizes how much she still has to learn. 

A big fantasy reader, Jilly connects with another fan, Derek, who is a Deaf Black ASL user. She goes to Derek for advice but doesn’t always know the best way to ask for it and makes some mistakes along the way. Jilly has to step back to learn to be an ally, a sister, and a friend, understanding that life works in different ways for different people, and that being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

Alex Gino is up front about some of her goals for this middle grade novel in an author’s note at the end of the book where they stat that it “is consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism and police violence in the United States.” This novel certainly addresses some hard issues such as ableism, micro-aggressions, police brutality, white privilege and ‘innocent’ assumptions. That is a lot to tackle in one novel, but Gino adds warmth and humor to soften the tougher parts of the book. The author uses interactions between Jilly P and other users of an online fantasy-fan community to address many issues, which I think works well, though some readers may find it a little contrived and didactic.

Jilly’s baby sister Emma is born deaf in the opening chapters. As Jilly researches deafness and speaks with her deaf online friend, and as she observes some of the micro-aggressions within her own family to non-white members, she realizes that the world treats people like baby Emma and her two black cousins and their black mom (married to her dad’s white sister) differently than her. Her online crush, Derek happens to be a very secure black and deaf twelve-year-old who isn’t afraid to call Jilly out on her privilege and insensitivity. Very cooly, he lets her figure out what needs to change. 

I will say I have to agree with other reviewers that Jilly sounded more like my 5th graders than my 7th graders, i.e. like the protagonist George in Gino’s amazing MG debut. But she owns her mistakes in a pretty damn mature way, and bravely confronts the racism that exists in her family. She even gently challenges her not-racist parents for their passivity toward the family racism. I love that he takes practical steps to vocally combat local racism when a young black teen is shot in nearby Oakland, CA.

The protagonist definitely has a great story arc. A big heart of the story for me is about how words and names belong to the people who use them; how the things we say have impact beyond our control. After many clumsy errors, Jilly recognizes, “I’ve learned that what you say matters, and that you can hurt people even when you don’t mean to. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to help someone start a rough conversation, even if that person is an adult. Even if those people are your parents. I’ve learned that racism is still around today….And I’ve learned there’s no such thing as being done with learning.” (215)

Jilly P. is important book that would make great book club reading, I think, to start conversations with the young people about their own privilege, and hopefully invite them to action.

Resources: 

Please check out the author’s website for a video on how you sign Derek in ASL. (after you have read the book!) http://www.alexgino.com/jillyp/

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2 Responses to You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P – Middle Grade Book Recommendation

  1. This book has a lot of interesting themes. The deaf sister and friend, interests me because my daughter is hearing impaired. But this story has so much more — dealing with racism within your own family is tough. I know. I’ve been reviewing a lot books about racism lately, and this one is a bit different. Thanks for the excellent review. You should add this review to MMGM post next Monday. There will be a lot of interest in it. Send him your link on Sunday. You can find information on my posts.

  2. Joanna says:

    Thanks for the advice, Pat.

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