Newbery Contender: “Just Like That” by Gary D. Schmidt

Book review: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (tween fiction)

Gary D. Schmidt received the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor award for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy in 2005. He received another Newbery Honor in 2008 for the The Wednesday Wars. In his most recent book, Just Like That, Schmidt ties in challenging topics of loss and grief that show why he is an excellent choice for 2021 Newbery award.

After her best friend passes in a tragic accident, Meryl Lee Kowalski’s parents feel it is best for her to move schools in order to help her grieve easier. Meryl Lee is ready to face St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, but she is not ready for the challenge of new social groups and the other classist challenges that she will encounter.

Meanwhile, Matt Coffin is on the run from a gang leader after “finding” his bag full of money. When the headmaster of St. Elene’s takes him in, Matt finds that his past connections will stop at nothing to get back what belongs to them. Matt and Meryl Lee’s paths end up crossing, and the two of them try to break down the social structure of St. Elene.

Just Like That begins in Hicksville, Long Island, the town where The Wednesday Wars takes place, but then readers follow the Kowalski family to St. Elene in Maine. Taking place in 1968, readers are able to see the effects the Vietnam War has on the characters. This book provides many storylines, and the way that Schmidt is able to weave them together is something to praise.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, The Wednesday Wars, and even realistic fiction will enjoy Schmidt’s attention to detail and the connection of these stories. Schmidt takes the difficult subjects in Just Like That and is able to sprinkle in some comedic relief, making this book an excellent choice for the Newbery Award!

~ Ms. Leeah

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