The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen RiversA few weeks ago, I listened to a delightful podcast where Matthew Winner did an author interview with Karen Rivers about her new book The Girl in the Well is Me (Grades 5-8). Matthew, an elementary school librarian, said he had NEVER, ever read anything quite like this book for middle grade. That intrigued me, but what really got me was how he described it. He said, “This book shows off the strength in the written word’s ability to take us to a dark and sometimes scary place in such a way that it’s safe. You know that feeling that you can trust an author to take care of his characters?” Karen Rivers also touched on scary-safe middle grade novels, explaining that they offer “a palatable format, not like a movie that’s so up in their face, but in this way that they can process it at their own comfort level.”

I love that Matthew and Karen honed in on the importance of books to help young people (especially middle graders) figure it all out. Also, going back to what Matthew said about never reading anything quite like this book, I had to see what he meant. The Girl in The Well is Me did not disappoint.

Kammie is new to Nowheresville, Texas, and she wants nothing more than to have friends. In fact, she’s so desperate for friends that she walks into the Texas desert with the most popular girls in school without knowing what she’s getting into. Here she hopes to be initiated into their exclusive club. Before whatever was planned occurs, she falls into a well. That’s where the story begins.

As Kammie is unnervingly trapped in a well for pretty much the whole story, she mulls over all the things in her life and what got her to this point—the awful trio of girls that walked her out to the desert, family members, feelings about the move to this new place and the hardships surrounding it, her interests, her hopes … it seems like she touches on just about everything in her life. All of this is told in a compelling stream-of-consciousness narrative that is sad yet funny, seemingly disjointed yet revealing, bit by bit, Kammie’s true self.

More vivid flashbacks throughout provide more details about what brought Kammie and her family to Texas as well as providing glimpses into a life that no longer exists for her. Here’s the gist of it: Kammie’s dad embezzled money from a children’s charity to pay for an extravagant lifestyle they couldn’t really afford. Now, Dad’s in jail, her mom works two jobs, they live in a trailer and her brother wants nothing to do with her. They moved to Texas to start over, and, as you can imagine, are working through some major life adjustments.

The story paints a scary and, at times, disturbing picture of what Kammie experienced in the well (I mean, she almost dies), but does so in a way that kids can handle, Girl in the Well also touches on family relationships, bullies and cliques and finding your unique identity—all very relevant topics for middle graders. This title will make for a riveting read aloud. River’s stellar character development will draw readers into Kammie’s world where they will empathize with her, where everything she is going through feels real. In the end, Kammie’s ok, not just bodily, but also emotionally. She’s okay with who she’s going to be and realizes she has control over that. Middle graders will get that message and hold it close.

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