Fresh from winning the 2018 Newbery Medal for her previous novel, Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly brings readers another beautifully written story of hard-won friendship. Charlotte Lockard and Ben Boxer may live hundreds of miles apart—she’s in Philadelphia, he’s in Louisiana—but they have plenty in common. Both are passionate about their interests. Both excel at online Scrabble (which is how they met). Both are having a hard time navigating their first year of middle school, and they’re experiencing family crises. And even though they don’t know it, both Charlotte and Ben are each other’s only real friend.
Charlotte is busy navigating shifting allegiances at school and her father’s illness at home. Meanwhile, Ben launches a student council campaign, in part to distract himself from his parents’ divorce. When Charlotte and Ben chat during their Scrabble games, they inevitably overstate their happiness and understate their loneliness—but will their long-distance friendship give them the courage to be more authentic, both online and in real life?
Kelly’s novel takes on some challenging topics, from divorce to aging parents to bullying. Both Charlotte and Ben are flawed—they misrepresent themselves and are sometimes unkind—but these flaws are also what make their stories feel honest and real. For the kids who read this story, Charlotte’s and Ben’s stumbles will make their journey toward happiness so much more satisfying.