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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Greta by J.S. Lemon 
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It's probably not surprising that J.S. Lemon's middle-grade debut "Greta" centers around a middle-grade girl named Greta.

Greta Goodwin is going through a lot. She lives with her mom, dad, and little brother known as Fej. As we meet her, she's going through the motions of packing up her room for the family's big move to a new neighborhood far away from best friend Lotti.

There's never a page where we don't feel the deep friendship that exists between Greta and Lotti, two young girls who practically define what it means to be BFFs and to feel safe with another human being.

Greta doesn't quite feel ready for middle school. It means boys, bras, and more busyness than she's used to in her daily life.

Greta attends her first middle school party with loyal friend Lotti by her side. She's more than a little surprised when a boy pays a lot of attention to her. That surprise turns into discomfort and disorientation as what initially feels good suddenly feels awful. With a life experience it seems like she can't tell anyone, Greta's body starts to change in new and mysterious ways as she transforms into something wondrous and wholly unique.

"Greta" is a deeply felt, transformative, vulnerable, and honest middle grade novel that tackles difficult yet meaningful material with storytelling that is surprisingly funny, remarkably tender, and immensely respectful to its characters. I found myself enchanted by Greta and her life journey even through an ending that will resonate with many, trouble others, and just plain confuse some folks.

It makes sense. I promise.

There aren't a lot of times these days that I read a middle-grade novel and think to myself "This feels original!" This is precisely what happens with "Greta." While there are certainly middle grade novels that tackle difficult subject matter, "Greta" does so in a way that it could be interpreted in a myriad of ways both sad and exhilarating.

"Greta" could have easily gone wrong and yet never does. It's clear that J.S. Lemon not only writes these characters well but cares for them. Lemon has crafted a sensitive portrayal filled with exceptional dialogue and little nuances that allowed me to connect with each character in profound and meaningful ways.

"Greta" is likely to resonate most with the more mature middle-grade reader and would likely be a great selection for a trauma-informed reading shelf. It is important to know that "Greta" does deal with sexual assault in a manner that is discreet and respectful yet also easily understood. It is a book that is respectful of traumatic life experiences and big feelings and events for younger people.

At just over 200 pages, "Greta" is a relatively quick read, perhaps a tad too quick, but this allows for a move from trauma to transformation that feels both grounded in reality and possessing of hints of fantasy.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic