Title: Violets are Blue
Author: Barbara Dee
Publisher: Aladdin, 28th Sept. 2021
Genre: Middle Grade realistic contemporary fiction
ARC review copy from publisher
Themes: divorce, parental addiction, pills addiction, middle school, makeup artists, secrets, friendships, forgiveness, family, SUD (substance use disorder), stepmoms
“But I couldn’t stop thinking about this other feeling I had: how sometimes when Mom looked at me, it was like she didn’t even see my face. Like my features had been deleted, one by one, and all she was seeing when I stood in front of her was white foundation, and powder, layer on top of layer, making me go blurry. Until finally I disappeared too.” (ARC, 218)
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? (publisher)
Why I like this book:
I haven’t read a Barbara Dee novel I haven’t liked. This latest middle grade story tackles another hard-hitting topic that affects many young readers and their families. While a challenging topic for readers to grapple with, all the characters, especially our protagonist Wren, are super relatable and Dee manages to tackle the complexities of subjects like divorce and substance abuse in a sensitive and compelling way.
The opioid epidemic is sadly impacting more and more families and children, and the subtle signs noticed and yet not seen by those close to the addict are artfully depicted. Wren is a well developed and endearing character; her interest in effects makeup also made for an unusual focus for this tween, and Dee used this deftly to tie into some of the themes in this novel of identity, concealment, secrecy…. There are lots of topics covered here (divorce, stepmom, new half-siblings, parental addictions, fitting into a new school, making friends, crushes or not…) but all felt relevant and believable. How often do we as adults feel that when problems arrive they never come alone? It’s complicate but so is life often, whatever the age.
I really enjoyed the evolution of Wren’s friendships, especially with Kai. It was cool to see a protagonist upset about hurting a friend’s feelings who was crushing on her when she couldn’t reciprocate. I enjoyed Wren’s naïveté about this. I suspect the pop culture, makeup art and musical theatre will have wide appeal. It is a well paced and moving story that kept my interest to the last page. The end is not all tidy bows, but as complex and satisfying as the rest of the story. I strongly recommend this book for middle schoolers.
“‘Actually blue violets do exist in nature,’ Cat FX said cheerfully. ‘Purple ones are more common, but just because something is weird doesn’t mean it’s not real.’” (ARC, 256)
This book belongs in every middle school library to generate important discussions. Around 1 in 8 children (8.7 million) aged 17 or younger lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year substance use disorder (SUD). About 1 in 35 children (2.1 million) lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year illicit drug use disorder.