by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Conditional Recommendation: Joe has always lived in New Jersey and Ravi is from India but together they must navigate fitting in, dealing with a bully, and the first week of school as 5th graders.
Before our three-day drive to Moab, Utah, I downloaded a bunch of audiobooks to enjoy on the way. My husband and I have had good luck finding good books this way and this trip turned up this little gem! Told from alternating points of view, the story follows the first-week-of-school struggles of two 5th grade boys—one from New Jersey, and one from India. It’s sure to make you laugh, broaden your mind and warm your heart.
*Quick tip: there’s a glossary at the end of the book!
Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in. Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.
This book provides many talking points such as: first impressions, fitting in, bullying, kids’ relationships with their parents, and kids making friends. I would say the major themes are overcoming assumptions about people and dealing with bullying—each handled with a sense of reality and goodness.
Complete & Caring Families – Yay! This book has two complete families (a dad, a mom, and even grandparents) involved in the kids’ lives. This book does a great job at showing kids as a part of a healthy family unit. Regardless of how different the kids’ lives at school can be, this book demonstrates how family affects not only what kind of people the kids are but how they are as well. There comes a point in the book where both kids discuss with their parents what’s really going on at school and the tough time they’re having and their family’s response is to encourage and support them. I thought the family dynamics were well done—realistic, not perfect, and with love.
The alternating points of view in this book work wonderfully to showcase how the same experiences can affect two people differently.
Joe – a tall-for-his-age victim of bullying who has auditory processing disorder (APD) is just trying to get by in school. His dad is a trucker and his mom took a job as the school’s lunch monitor…which only makes the bullying worse for Joe. He’s a highly observant, quiet, kind kid in need of a friend. Joe takes the advice of the adults in his life from the breathing techniques the resource room teacher taught him, to words of wisdom from his old 4th grade teacher.
Ravi – an intelligent, minuscule boy who was popular and top of his class back in India is shell-shocked that his teacher can’t understand his perfect English because of his accent and thinks he needs “special” help. At first, he is confident about where he will fit in, but as the week progresses he discovers how wrong his assumptions were.
Both boys experience a little growing up by the end of the book—Joe is lifted up into someone who knows his value and Ravi is humbled into someone willing to befriend and help Joe, who he originally thought was dumb.
It’s a heartwarming, though predictable ending, but enjoyable all the same.
Though this book doesn’t discuss spirituality at all, Ravi and his family are Hindu and believe that eating meat is a sin, which explains Ravi’s reaction when he’s tricked into eating meat at school. They also believe that Ravi’s mother has an almost a magical gift for knowing what will happen because she has a birthmark on her tongue. Neither of these things are serious but here they are for your consideration.
All in all, the story and characters are interesting, the plot is engaging and the themes are great for discussion. I recommend reading this aloud or listening to the audiobook which has different voice actors for the two main characters. The reader will get a richer experience listening to the audiobook because hearing the Indian accent roots you more firmly in the character of Ravi.
To learn more about APD, I found this article helpful and easy to understand: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/central-auditory.html