In our writers' group, we are all working on a number of things. Some of these projects go back a while and as new members come into the group, they may not be aware of what individuals were working on in the past. And some of us, yes, I mean me, may be a little irregular in our attendance. So while I was aware of this book and that it was being submitted to agents and when agents got involved and when it was sold, my knowledge was what you might call superficial.
For instance, I thought The Way I Say It was about a kid with a speech impediment and how he deals with it. I would argue that's not the basic story here. The basic story, to me, is far more sophisticated. It's about a kid, who happens to have a speech issue, dealing with his anger and guilt over a failed relationship and how that impacts his world during sixth grade.
I hate to go into too much detail, since there were a couple of points where I actually exclaimed while reading this book, because I am so lazy that I didn't even read all the flap copy. I don't want to take that experience away from other readers. (Don't read the flap copy!)
So I'll talk about some other things.
What Do I Mean By Real Child Situations?
Over the years, I've found that many middle grade novels, especially the ones that are warmly embraced by gatekeepers, deal with situations adults find...uh, shall we say...terrifying? Dead parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, divorce, terminal illnesses, chronic disease, war, and the ever popular demented old people, for example. I'm not saying these aren't terrifying situations or that they never happen within children's families. But there's a whole other category of issues that are important to children and focusing on the major life problems that adults find important all the time suggests that children's problems are not valuable enough to showcase in books for them.
In The Way I Say It, Nancy Tandon deals with a school year full of these types of issues. Fear of humiliation and not being included, struggles to deal with uncomfortable interactions, beginning to want to spend time with members of the opposite sex, getting started on a new school year and having to rebuild relationships or make new ones. Starting a new school year is like starting a new job, people. We think starting a new job is important, don't we? Why isn't starting the new school year enough without killing someone off or breaking up a marriage to go along with it?