Review: Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai by Debbi Michiko Florence

JUST BE COOL, JENNA SAKAI by Debbi Michiko Florence is a layered, thoughtful, and light exploration of how middle schoolers respond to dramas big (family divorce) and not-so-big (academic competition, friendship changes). This stand-alone follow-up to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is readable, relatable, and filled with well-developed characters we both like and hope will grow. 

Jenna is insecure and angry and vulnerable, and beneath her “heartbreak is for suckers” attitude, she is a bit of a romantic. When she returns from winter break with her dad, Jenna finds out her all-consuming boyfriend has broken up with her. An unwillingness to trust mixes with trading resentment for love, and it’s clear that despite the hurt over her own breakup, Jenna’s parents’ divorce is the real breakup she still needs to deal with. The story handles the complicated emotions well and with authenticity; parents of middle-schoolers would do well to read the book, too. 

The supporting characters of Keiko, Rin, Isabella, Elliot, the local diner’s owner, and even Jenna’s parents are given interesting storylines that help develop their own stories. It is a racially and class diverse group with recognizable personalities. Each displays a variety of emotions and values, helping readers to see them as more than background. It’s an enjoyable ensemble. 

With a lack of conflict surrounding sex, drugs, and violence, JUST BE COOL, JENNA SAKAI is a great book for middle grade readers who are ready for just little more grown-up conflict without jumping into harder topics. For many kids, the emotional toll of middle school is enough. And in this book, it definitely makes for a great story. 

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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