Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai – Debbie Michiko Florence

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai – Debbie Michiko Florence. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1338671568

Format: Uncorrected proof

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

 Genre: realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  7th grader Jenna Sakai is all done with relationships.  Her parents, who have been fighting since she was nine, got divorced and her father moved to Texas, leaving Jenna feeling abandoned and hurt and struggling to communicate with her mother.  Her boyfriend Elliott broke up with her right before Christmas break, but she still has to deal with him on a regular basis, as they are both highly competitive members of their school’s journalism club.  Jenna is even having a hard time opening up to her longtime best friend Keiko, whose new romance sometimes gets in the way of the girls’ friendship.  Jenna just wants to find a quiet spot to have some time alone, to get her homework done and keep her heart from getting hurt again.  So when she happens upon Leigh’s Diner one day after school, she is relieved to find delicious Broadway-themed milkshakes, a kind and sympathetic waitress, and a booth to call her own.  

After a week or so of having the Hamilton booth to herself, she is frustrated to arrive at the diner one day to find it occupied by a boy from school named Rin Watanabe, whom she believes to be arrogant and aloof.  Both of them stubbornly refuse to give up the booth, and thus end up sharing it.  Rin draws manga in a sketchbook (keeping hidden behind a pile of textbooks) while Jenna works on her newspaper assignment – an exposé on recent cafeteria renovations at their school – and the two bicker their way into a grudging friendship.  And when Jenna’s project hits a little too close to home for Rin, she has to decide whether getting the scoop is more important than hurting his feelings and ruining their relationship.  

This companion novel to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter has many layers – and Jenna’s poignant narration navigates them all beautifully.  Any of the story lines (her parents’ divorce, her budding romance with Rin, her friendship problems) would be enough for one book, but Debbie Michiko Florence is able to weave them all together into a compelling page-turner that will have readers riding the waves of Jenna’s emotions right along with her. 

Anything you did not like about the book? no

 To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school realistic fiction readers – particularly those who enjoyed Keep It Together, Keiko Carter or books by authors like Supriya Kelkar, Hena Khan, or Sharon Draper. 

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

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