An article came out a while back about Jewish middle grade books, and my TBR blew up after that. I try to keep it to manageable numbers, but sometimes you just find one of those lists, and everything goes downhill in the best possible way, right? One of those books from that was Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021). The premise sounded emotionally heavy – you know I love the heavy books! – and the main character was Jewish, so all of this earned it spot on my TBR. I was so happy to finally be able to grab a copy from the library in the next town over.
The story opens with what Abby thinks is the worst day of her life – her best friend, Cat, is moving to Israel. She’ll be gone for a few years, and Abby, who is shy and doesn’t really have any other friends, doesn’t know how she’s going to survive seventh grade. Fortunately, she’s got her two moms and her older brother Paul to help her through the tough spots, along with her turtle, Fudge. And the cute boy who moved in next door, into Cat’s old house, might turn out to be a friend as well…if Abby can stop being so awkward whenever she tries to talk to them.
But turns out Cat moving to Israel isn’t the worst thing. Paul is sick – really sick, with testicular cancer, and Abby’s not sure she can handle the possibly that he might die. His treatment is going to be tough on everyone, and Abby’s going to have to come out of her shell a little in order to be the supportive one this time.
Abby, Tried and True is sad and fun and sweet all at once. Abby is timid, yet vibrant; she’s a grade-A introvert who’s perfectly happy with one best friend, spending her time at home crocheting, writing poetry, and talking to her turtle. She’s close to her family: her two moms, her sixteen-year-old brother, and her grandparents, and she hates being in the spotlight. At the start of the novel, she’s entirely content with all of this, but Cat’s move to Israel throws her into the frying pan of seventh grade alone. It’s Conrad, the cute new boy next door, who provides the first opportunity for Abby to step into some leadership skills, showing him around at school. He’s just as nervous as she is.
Paul’s shocking diagnosis sends tremors through the whole family. Testicular cancer isn’t uncommon in teen boys, but it doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves (who wants to talk about testicles???), so in reading about Paul’s treatments and how he dealt with not only his illness, but the side effects and emotional fallout as well, really taught me a lot. I knew a little bit about what the struggles looked like when chemo ended, but not quite as in-depth as Ms. Gephart went here, so I found myself especially interested in that part of the story. Abby’s struggle to understand and support her brother and her moms through all of this is genuine and heartfelt; her growth throughout the story is natural and admirable.
Her friendship and budding romance with Conrad is adorable and provides some lighter moments from the stress and strain of Paul’s illness. It’s all very sweet and innocent, and Conrad, whose uncle survived testicular cancer, is excellent support and friendship for Abby. And the Jewish rep? Top notch. Multiple Jewish holidays and their traditions are portrayed, and it’s so enjoyable to see how Abby and her family celebrate.
All in all, Abby, Tried and True is an excellent middle grade novel about a tough subject.