You Go First

You Go First

When his parents call him in to have a talk, eleven year old Ben knows it's going to be about moving to Michigan.  Except it isn't  Turns out his parents are getting a divorce.  His parents?  A divorce?

Twelve year old Charlotte was sitting in class when the knock on the door came she heard that her father had had a heart attack and crashed the car. Two tough kids, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Louisiana.  They know each other.  They play Scrabble online.

These are two big gut punches but it's when Ben decides to run for student council treasurer and meets an army of middle school bullies and a wave of humiliation and Charlotte's long time BFF turns on her that these two human beings feel they don't fit in and start to lose their way.

Told with sensitivity that will make its way toward the old wounds and painful memories of years ago for some and the same fresh wounds in middle schoolers battling peer pressure today, the two experiences of these two adolescents might stir in some the heroic and courageous veins that create things like the cafeteria plan started in 2017 by an immigrant who felt left out and alone.

No one wants to be sitting alone.  No one wants to be left out.  No one wants to discover she or he is the only one who is "so different."  The Vans that sit rowed up by the front door of Bridget's house should not be the standard by which we measure each other.  Mateo's words to Charlotte about who his sister is are the ones that matter.

This would be an incredible read aloud in a middle school.  One School One Book....this one is a primer for bullying, acceptance and learning to see what really matters.

This book offers hope to all of those who are sitting alone on the bus or on the back stairs so they won't be seen at one extremely well-known and highly successful young adult author, by the way.

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch.

Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways, as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. This engaging story about growing up and finding your place in the world by the Newbery Medal–winning author of Hello, Universe and the winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature will appeal to fans of Rebecca Stead and Rita Williams-Garcia.

Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s You Go First is an engaging exploration of family, bullying, spelling, art, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships. Her perfectly pitched tween voice will resonate with fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale.--from the publisher

304 pages     978-0062414182    Ages 8-12


“A gas” -- 1960s slang for having a lot of fun

“Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend When people can be so cold? They’ll hurt you and desert you” --Carole King” (1971)

“Charlotte wasn’t sure what happened, but suddenly there were other things to do. There was too much to worry about. Middle school infected her life like a virus. She started hiding her dolls, even though she still wanted to brush their hair. She slipped stuffed animals under the bed--how babyish they seemed now. And she said no to Scrabble. That didn’t stop her dad from asking. ‘How about a game?’ he’d say. ‘Maybe later,’ she’d reply. Eventually he stopped asking. Then the box wasn’t on the table anymore. One day it was there, the next it wasn’t. When Ms. Khatri told her about her father’s heart attack, Charlotte’s feet had turned to stone. She couldn’t move. For a second she thought she might have a heart attack, too. There was a weight on her chest that wouldn’t go away. She had millions of thoughts, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was, ‘I should have played more Scrabble.’”

“‘I came in early so I could hang up my posters.’ He patted his bag. ‘My name is Ben Boxer and I’m running for student-council treasurer. Trying to work my way up to president.’ ‘Well, future Mr. President, be my guest,’ Mr. Higgins said. He waved his hand toward the empty hallway behind him. ‘Thank you,’ said Ben. He liked the sound of ‘future Mr. President’ so he played it again and again in his head as he clipped through the hallways in his dress shoes. The echoes became a silent chant in his mind, like a military drill: Future Mr. PRES-i-dent, Future Mr. PRES-i-dent. When he reached the first blank wall in the sixth-grade hallway, he stopped, ran his hand over the cinderblocks to make sure the packing tape would stick properly, then set down his bag and pulled out a poster. Black letters. White background. He didn’t just want to be a brand. Now that he’d jumped full-force into the thing, he really wanted to implement change. He really wanted Lanester Middle School to evolve. A new mascot to replace the red-faced Indian that he found culturally offensive, Lanester Lions, maybe. More vending options. Most importantly: increased recycling. he would be a consummate populist. A president for the people. The hallway was different with no one in it. The lockers stretched on forever with their mouths closed. None of the classroom doors were open. When he yanked the first length of tape from the roll, the sound bounced off the walls. He had an urge to call out his name just so he could hear it echo, but he didn’t want Mr. Higgins to come charging toward him, wondering what all the fuss was about.”

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard from suburban Philadelphia and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer from Lanester, Louisiana are both middle school kids who have each just hit rough patches in their young lives: Charlotte’s father is in the hospital, having suffered a heart attack, while Ben’s parents have just informed him that they are getting divorced and that his father is moving out.

Ah, middle school. Fifty years ago, I was in the thick of it and it’s clear from reading YOU GO FIRST that some things are still very much the same. When I read about Ben being shoved into a locker or overhear Charlotte’s supposed best friend talking trash about her, it makes me ache. It brought back the boys who’d slam me into lockers, or shove my books out from under my arm in the middle of a crowded stairwell, or mock my clothes.

But in 2018, a multitude of technological changes differentiate today’s middle school experiences from those of yesteryear. YOU GO FIRST reveals that those changes can make a difference beyond just being able to Google the answer to a homework question.

Ben and Charlotte are separated by more than a thousand miles, yet they know each other. The two have become online friends by repeatedly playing against each other in an online Scrabble-style game. They even occasionally telephone one another to converse. With both facing stressful family situations and suffering from fair-weather friends, their evolving online friendship will make a real difference at a crucial moment.

YOU GO FIRST is a gas. It’s funny, moving, and meaningful. I like that both Charlotte and Ben eventually each develop new and more healthy friendships at their respective schools and don’t rely on their long-distance connection for everything. But they are really there for one another.

As a Words With Friends addict, I find playing word games to be a fun and worthwhile diversion. In YOU GO FIRST, the Scrabble connection gives the story a uniqueness, as well as material for a really great cover.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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