Solving for M by Jennifer Swender
When Mika starts fifth grade at the middle school, her neat life gets messy. Separated from old friends and starting new classes, Mika is far from her comfort zone. And math class is the most confusing of all, especially when her teacher Mr. Vann assigns math journals. Art in math? Who's ever heard of such a thing?
But when challenges arise at home, Mika realizes there are no easy answers. Maybe, with some help from friends, family, and one unique teacher, a math journal can help her work out problems, and not just the math ones.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’ve never seen a book quite like Solving for M, and frankly? It was fantastic.
Solving for M is a very specific type of story. It’s about Mika, a fifth-grader nervous about going to a new school and being in different classes than her best friend. The story starts with Mika in her new math class, and the teacher tells them to bring a “math journal”. And then he eats a candle. The story in itself is about change and adaptation and courage. I didn’t expect this book to confront cancer, especially not in Mika’s immediate family. So not only do we have dialogue about cancer (and a hopeful one at that!), and a dialogue about change and finding yourself, but there’s conversation about chidden of divorced parents, and a good step-mother.
I also really like the way this book handles diversity. Mika’s two new friends, Dee Dee and Chelsea, are black and Asian respectively. And you wouldn’t know it until you looks at the illustrations – no stereotypes or qualifiers. They’re all just girls. It’s a good message, but subtle. People are people. I really liked it.
Reading this, I couldn’t help but wish there was a book like this when my mother was going through chemo. I was a couple years older than Mika at the time, but nobody was talking about it, and nobody would tell me anything. It isn’t something that’s culturally easy to talk about, so having books like this and being able to see someone in your shoes is important. I am so glad this book exists for the girls and boys who are faced with a cancer diagnosis in their family.
On the other hand, this is a heavy topic for a middle grade novel, and I’m not so sure it will have a general audience. Early on, I was mentally holding this as a book to buy my friend’s daughter, who is heading to middle school soon, but having finished it… it was so cancer-centric I’m not sure it would be a good fit for her. Something to know if you’re considering buying it.
Nonetheless, the writing was fantastic. I would read Jennifer Swender again, and I’m going to remember this book as a must-read if any children I know are faced with this sort of news.
Do you read middle grade novels? Outside of nostalgia, I rarely pick them up, but I’m really glad I read this one. Tell me your favorite middle grade novels in the comments!