Genre: MG/YA Contemporary | Diversity: half-Spanish MC + mental health rep
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way shapes my opinions of the book.*
what it’s about:
Sofia Wolfe, age 14, lost her mother less than a year ago, and she’s not sure how to live without her. Her OB-GYN dad has been distant ever since, her friends are either overly protective or insensitive by turn, and Sofia wishes she had someone to ask about having her first kiss.
She turns to Dear Kate, an advice columnist for Fifteen magazine, and soon Sofia is pouring out her soul in email after email: how she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get over losing her mom, how her first kiss didn’t turn out like she expected, and how her dad’s dating again and she doesn’t know how to react.
Come to find out, her dad’s new girlfriend is none other than Dear Kate. Pretty soon, Sofia spends more time in the suburbs with Kate and her daughter Alexa; and before she knows it, she and her dad are moving in, building a new family out of the ashes of their broken one.
This is a beautiful novel about learning to live after losing the most important person in your life, and about the awkwardness of growing up when you’re stuck between child and adult. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret meets The Princess Diaries in Sofia’s voice, her pre-teeny voice mixed with the serious issues. This is the book I wish I’d had when I was in middle school, but I think anyone can appreciate the coming-of-age story.
subtle diversity and real tweenage issues
Speed of Life has some wonderfully subtle diversity that I really appreciated: Sofia is half-Spanish (as in, from Spain); her best friend, Kiki, is Vietnamese and Brazilian; and Dear Kate’s daughter, Alexa, has a gay dad with a boyfriend. While all of this is part of the story, it’s subtle and natural without feeling forced.
I love the way the book deals with the issues 11-to-13-year-olds really want (and need) to know about, like periods and boyfriends and when to have sex. Having Dear Kate as a big part of the plot means that there’s some well-placed advice for kids that doesn’t come off as corny. Girls who are uncomfortable talking to their moms (or, like Sofia, can’t) will appreciate the realistic answers Dear Kate provides.
The treatment of grief in this novel is heartfelt and raw. As the story progresses and Sofia grows, the way she deals with grief changes; it becomes less obvious, peaking through occasionally in certain moments without being the biggest part of her story. She learns that it’s not about “getting over” losing her mom, but about learning to move forward; her mom will always be a part of her. I think this book could really do some good for kids dealing with the loss of a loved one.
more middle grade than young adult
While I enjoyed reading this book, it’s not without flaws. I didn’t enjoy the short scenes that made for an episodic feel, although I recognize that this would probably work for a Middle Grade reader more than it did for me. Additionally, some of the young characters make problematic statements that aren’t really further addressed. Early on, Kiki refers to the “ABCs of adolescence” as anorexia, bulimia, and cutting—it’s clearly supposed to be a joke, but I don’t think there’s anything funny about any of those things. Later, Alexa refers to her dislike for the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, that he’s “whiny and depressed. He should’ve just taken meds!” While I recognize that these statements are part of the characters (and their immaturity), they perpetuate harmful stereotypes and aren’t ever addressed by adult figures in the story.
overall: recommended for younger teens & anyone dealing with grief
Overall, I think this is a great book for parents or for younger teens, particularly girls struggling with the loss of a parent, or girls with non-traditional families. The coming-of-age story shows Sofia’s character growth and will resonate with anyone who’s ever been fourteen.
Find Speed of Life online:
*Please Note: this is a backlogged review from April 2017. I am still technically on hiatus from blogging, but I’ll try my best to respond to everyone’s comments (albeit with delays). For more information, check here.*