My first finished book of 2019 is You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P.! and it is one that I would highly recommend. Alex Gino created something really special with this book and it deserves to be in all middle school libraries. Why? Because it deals with privilege and racism, important yet challenging topics that need to be discussed early and often.
Jilly is a 12 year old girl who has just become a big sister. One side of her extended family is diverse while the other is still a little behind the times with their thinking. Jilly herself is a problem solver, and pretty adept at it, but as the book begins we see that her parents try to shield her from the struggles that our world is going through. They tend to brush the tough stuff aside rather than confront it and help her learn and grow. This book is Alex Gino’s attempt to help face the uncomfortable issues rather than hide from them in the hopes that we can actually do something about them. As the novel begins, Jilly is about to become a big sister. But when her sister is born deaf, her family finds that no one has all of the answers.
A big part of Jilly’s life is also an online community called De La Court, which was created for fans of a fantasy book series that Jilly adores. Jilly connects with another user, Derek, especially after she finds out that he is Deaf (and Black, which comes in later). Jilly is looking for guidance from Derek about the deaf community and sign language, but she keeps inadvertently saying the wrong thing. Through her conversations, she slowly learns, but it is a challenging process.
The other side of this story deals with racism and white privilege, and sneaks some LGBTQ pride in there as well. Jilly’s family is Italian, but her aunt is married to a black woman. Jilly has a very special relationship with her Aunt Joanne who is unwilling to keep Jilly in the dark and who Jilly often turns to for help. When racism rears its ugly head at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, Jilly sees first hand how some words are meant to hurt and others are more subtle and unintentional, but over time they build up to a tipping point. While Jilly’s parents like to just put a band-aid on the situation make the moment more comfortable, Alicia has a number of amazing lines about the need to face up to racism in order to make a change.
I inhaled this book. I put sticky notes in this book to mark passages that were exceptionally powerful. Jilly speaks with an honest middle grade voice and an open heart, willing to learn. I have no problem with the book being written to make a point and to educate. If this book can help spark a conversation, perhaps we can make some changes.
The podcast Scholastic Reads also had a great interview with Alex Gino. Click here to listen to it.