Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee. Grades 5-8. Aladdin, March 2017. 277 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.
Middle grade GLBT for the win, guys. Don't miss this one.
(Mild spoilers below - be aware!)
At its heart, this is a story of Mattie, an eighth grade girl, dealing with first crushes and playing a role in the class play. It just so happens that one of those crushes is on a girl, Gemma the new student from England who is cast as Juliet in the class production of Romeo and Juliet. This is confusing for Mattie - does she like Gemma just a lot as a friend or is it more than that? Could Gemma feel the same way? What will her classmates and friends think? Does this mean Mattie's a lesbian? Can she still like boys, too?
All of these questions are explored in a middle-school-appropriate way. There's no action except a couple of kisses in the play, but Dee still manages to craft a swoony love story (remember how those middle school crushes felt?!). Mattie's friends and family are all supportive and positive as she starts to reveal her feelings, and there's a scene where Mattie's teacher calls out a kid for using "gay" as an insult, so it's a supportive class environment, too. This is maybe idealistic, but I was fine with that. Let's give kids and teachers some ideals to aspire to. And the story is not at all about Mattie dealing with fallout from coming out or anything, but a much more introspective look at having a first same-sex crush, which again felt realistic for the age of the characters.
I appreciated Dee's choice of having the class play be Romeo and Juliet - there are a lot of parallels here between Mattie's feelings and Romeo's feelings, which he thinks he can't share because of his family's rivalry. There are secrets and layers of trust in both stories.
Hand this to tweens who like reading love stories and/or tweens interested in theater.