Lucas, Chad. Thanks A Lot, Universe. Amulet Books. 2021. $16.99. 279p. HC. 9781419751028.
Everything changes on Brian’s thirteenth birthday. He wakes up to find his dad gone—running from the law—and his mom back in her depressive state, empty pill bottles scattered at her feet. He and his little brother, Richie, are only given moments to pack their things before they are swept into foster care. It’s a lot for a quiet kid suffering from anxiety.
Ezra’s life is changing in more predictable ways. He has a tight-knit group of friends, but he is beginning to feel a chasm develop between him and his best friend, Colby. Colby is becoming a jerk, even laughing along as a bully targets their shy basketball teammate, Brian. As Brian spirals into crisis, Ezra is determined to be a supportive friend. Even if he might want to be something more.
This is a great middle-grade story with a same-sex crush as one of its many important focuses. While characters deal with myriad life crises including anxiety disorders, parental abandonment, parental suicide attempts, parental involvement in the drug trade, panic attacks, race dynamics, coming out, and bullying, at the heart of it all is a couple of 13-year-olds feeling overwhelmed with feelings and situations and trying to become comfortable with sharing the burden. Many tweens will relate to turmoil in their parents’ lives wreaking havoc in their own, and those whose situations are reflected in this book will be relieved to read something so nuanced and respectfully realistic.
I highly recommend this book for readers aged 10 to 14 who are looking for realistic fiction with higher stakes than other middle grade fiction, especially if they like stories featuring boy/boy crushes or could benefit from reading about a character who struggles with anxiety.