Where We Used to Roam by Jenn Bishop. Aladdin, 2021. 9781534457294
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Emma O’Malley is ready to make some changes as she begins 6th grade. She loves her best friend Becca, but they don’t have a lot in common, and Emma is hoping to make some new friends that ‘get’ her. She soon meets Kennedy and Lucy in art class; the three girls bond quickly, attending art club and concerts together and even make plans to attend a summer camp at the Rhode Island School of Design, while Emma becomes more and more estranged from Becca. Meanwhile, Emma’s popular, athletic older brother Austin suffers a serious football injury and starts to become withdrawn and angry toward the family.
As the school year winds down, Becca is humiliated on a school trip, due to a secret that Emma had shared with Kennedy, and it is simultaneously revealed that Austin is addicted to opioids. He is headed for a rehab facility, and Emma will be spending the summer with family friends in Wyoming so that their parents can focus their full attention on Austin. Emma is glad to escape the friendship debacle that she has caused, but is worried and confused about her brother’s situation, and hoping she hasn’t created an irreparable rift with Becca. In Wyoming, she is astounded by sightings of bison roaming free, enjoys getting to know her mother’s friend Delia, and becomes fast friends with Tyler, a boy with secrets of his own. Removed from all the drama back home, Emma comes to terms with her range of emotions – anger, sadness, guilt – and works on ways to reconcile with Becca and help her brother.
This compelling novel is narrated by Emma in a clear, authentically 12-year-old voice. Readers will empathize with the challenges of keeping her friendship drama a secret from her family, and her family situation a secret from her friends, and will root for her in all of her relationships – with old and new friends as well as her parents and her much-admired big brother. She does not shy away from describing Austin’s drug problem and the effect it is having on their family, but it is written so well from the younger sister’s perspective as she struggles to understand what her parents and doctors are telling her. Removing the stigma by normalizing addiction as a disease requiring medical treatment will be reassuring for some readers, and will certainly pave the way for important conversations with trusted adults.
Anything you did not like about the book? No
To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school readers of authors like Erin Entrada Kelly, Leslie Connor, Barbara Dee, or Cynthia Lord.
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.
Date of review: September 8, 2021