I think that it is only appropriate that I finished this book a few days after writing about picture books that encourage children to embrace their individuality. The Way to Bea, by Kat Yeh, is a really wonderful book for middle graders that handles the same type of concept, but for older kids experiencing completely different life issues.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Everything in Bea’s world has changed. She’s starting seventh grade newly friendless and facing big changes at home, where she is about to go from only child to big sister. Feeling alone and adrift, and like her words don’t deserve to be seen, Bea takes solace in writing haiku in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot.
But then something incredible happens–someone writes back. And Bea begins to connect with new friends, including a classmate obsessed with a nearby labyrinth and determined to get inside. As she decides where her next path will lead, she just might discover that her words–and herself–have found a new way to belong.
This book moved me in a number of ways and I would love to see a slew of kids reading it. I’ve never read anything by Kat Yeh, but apparently I’m going to have to fix that. The emotional heart of this book is Beatrix Lee, aka Bea. She is starting 7th grade at a new school after spending the summer in Taiwan. She returns home excited to see her friends, only to find that things have changed over the summer. Her best friend, S, is now hanging out with another group, and she doesn’t feel welcome. Bea walks around the school wearing headphones that aren’t playing music just so she doesn’t have to communicate with anyone else.
But it isn’t that Bea is unable to communicate, it is that she lives very much in her own head and communicates through her poetry. Her favorite style at the moment is haiku and she taps out the syllables on her heart. As someone who never quite got the beauty of haiku, Bea has changed that for me. The 5-7-5 pattern allows her to get out deep emotions without wasting a word.
While her long-time friend has moved on to a different social group, there is someone watching out for her and trying to lead her in a new direction. The librarian at Bea’s school is also the head of the newspaper club and Bea is the new poetry editor. The librarian encourages Bea to read Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (now on my must read list), and gets her to actually go to the newspaper office. There she meets people who do seem to like her, if only she would give them a chance. The person that she feels the closest bond with is Will, an autistic boy who eats lunch in the newspaper office every day.
Bea is that loner, angsty, marches to the beat of her own drummer kind of kid that has a hard time fitting in. She tries, but doesn’t quite know how. What she has to learn through this book is that maybe it isn’t about fitting in with people who don’t see the world the same way that she does, but rather, finding people who like her for who she is “…because it’s not worth it to be with people who make you feel like you can’t say what you want to say. Or be the way you want to be.”
There is so much to this story. I listened to the audio book and it was amazingly well done, however, now I want to actually see the physical copy so that I can look at all of the poems. This is one book that should be in every MS library.