Friday, April 28, 2023

Today's read... A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner

After yesterday's quick break from reading, I'm diving into a more serious read. Today's read comes out early next week and is the latest in a huge pile of works from a well-known author. I do look forward to seeing Mr. Lerner's tales. Anyway, this one leans more toward the graphic novel direction (think Wimpy Kid) but should carry tons and tons of bite. At least, the blurb makes it clear that this one surrounds insecurities on weight, bullying, and other problems.

So, let's buckle down because this one promises food for thought.

by Jarrett Lerner
Middle Grade Contemporary / Poetry / Graphic Novel
368 pages
ages 8 to 12

MAY 2nd!!!

A young boy struggles with body image in this poignant middle grade journey to self-acceptance told through prose, verse, and illustration.

Will is the only round kid in a school full of string beans. So he hides…in baggy jeans and oversized hoodies, in the back row during class, and anywhere but the cafeteria during lunch. But shame isn’t the only feeling that dominates Will’s life. He’s also got a crush on a girl named Jules who knows he doesn’t have a chance with—string beans only date string beans—but he can’t help wondering what if?

Will’s best shot at attracting Jules’s attention is by slaying the Will Monster inside him by changing his eating habits and getting more exercise. But the results are either frustratingly slow or infuriatingly unsuccessful, and Will’s shame begins to morph into self-loathing.

As he resorts to increasingly drastic measures to transform his appearance, Will meets skateboarder Markus, who helps him see his body and all it contains as an ever-evolving work in progress.



Written in verse, this read creates a powerful and emotional atmosphere as a young boy deals with self-image issues surrounding his weight.

When someone teases Will for being overweight, the cruel comment digs deep and festers. At first, he only tries to hide the problem, but it eats at him as he isolates himself from everyone. His mind whirls around his weight until he decides to diet, which he has really no clue how to handle. One day, a new kid enters school, and Will seems to have found a possible friend...not that he really believes anyone wants to be his friend. As Markus opens up to Will, Will is already in a bad place and in an unhealthy spiral, which he doesn't see...and doesn't know how to break.

This is a graphic novel and takes a form reminding of Wimpy Kid. The tale is written in poetic, short verse/phrases and carries a font to give the atmosphere of being written by Will on notebook paper with his doodles and scribbled art mixed in. This creates a potent and quick read. The artwork slides right in with fitting emotions so that both text and imagery work hand-in-hand to carry the message home. Will's fears, frustration, panic, depression, and frantic moods come across vividly and demand attention.

The entire thing stays in Will's head, and he is obsessed with his weight the entire way through. He goes through emotional extremes and takes the reader right along with him. It does a fantastic job at portraying the insecurities surrounding self-image problems and how they can spiral out of control. Still, it leads everything into a healthier direction by the end and offers a wholesome conclusion. So, the message hits loud, clear and with impactful emotions...and yet, I wish there would have been a little relief here and there (other concerns/thoughts/tiny sub-plots or a teensy bit of humor), since 350+ pages at this level of seriousness is heavy for certain middle grade readers and might not be a great fit for more sensitive readers. But for the right readers, it carries heart and food for thought.

It was nice to see Will's struggles with weight and dieting from a boy's perspective, since this is a problem for both genders. However, I do wish there would have been other pressures/issues involved outside of the school atmosphere and sheer body-imaging problems. Due to the number of heavier kids in schools today, weight isn't going to be the sole cause of bullying or mental turmoil as seen in Will's case. There is much more at play, and that's ignored here. But then, that's a complicated can of worms, and this read hits Will's weight, self struggles, and developing friendships with well-done craft, grit, and tons emotion. For the right reader, it leaves with an impact.

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