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Publisher: Jabberwocky, a Sourcebooks Imprint, 2015
Summary: Food is Opal's last connection to her dad. When he was sick and couldn't eat, Opal (13) ate first to encourage him, then to give him strength. Now it is her refuge. A habit she can't seem to let go. The not-so-subtle notes and comments from mom aren't helping. When Mom suggests creating a blog, Opal decides to give it a try. Dear Opl (she's changed her name to thin down) is born. Through her blog, Opal shares her thoughts on life. Soon, her fans that asking for her advice. Then came the double whammy: her school adopted the healthy program and Opal is diagnosed as pre-diabetic. When she rants about Alfie Adams, the celebrity chef who champions healthy eating (and that school lunch program) on her blog, the first thing that Opal loses is her best friend Summer. In the process of repairing their friendship, Opal begins to see that food isn't her strength, her heart is. This is a first-person journey about family, friendship, self discovery, and acceptance.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, family reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 9 and Up; read yourself: 11 and Up
Interest Level: 9 to 14
Reading Level: 5
Young Reader Reaction: Review pending.
Adult Reader Reaction: I almost abandoned this book. I'm glad I didn't. Opal speaks with an honest voice that not only reflects a teen's way of thinking, but also pushes the reader's consciousness about their own actions. I won't include spoilers, but I'm thinking specifically about Rudy, as well as how we (as parents) sometimes try to motivate our kids. The story is packed with a lot of great information - and solid suggestions about our choices. Humor helps keep it from being a downer.
My initial reaction to Dear Opl was based on the behavior of Opal's mom. She is insensitive, selfish, and frankly, oblivious. She isn't clownish, the way you normally see in middle grade fiction or on TV. There are some events that are more fictional than realistic, that does not apply to Opal's mother.
Pros: Teens struggling with self esteem, health issues, and/or loss will find a friend and mentor in Opal. Her outlook, humor, and similar experiences will leave them hoping to catch up with her again someday soon.
Cons: Opal's relationship with her mom is realistic, but may also be troublesome. For example, she tries to encourage Opal to diet by promising to buy her skinny jeans. Some readers may be frustrated that the needs of Opal's brother Ollie are largely ignored until the end.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. Regardless of their individual struggles, teens will find a friend (and support) in Opal.
Educational Themes: Dear Opl gives readers lots to think - and talk - about: grief, grieving, and loss; personal choice and responsibility; addiction and emotional behaviors; friendship; family relationships; health and healthy options; and prejudice and bullying, among others. The story offers specific ideas on ways to work through some of these issues, and discussing them may lead to even more strategies for readers.
Notes: The publisher donated an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.