“Sometimes my life feels like a room with two windows and two moons,” muses Bea, who spends her days being shuttled between her divorced parents’ New York City apartments. She’s excited for her father’s upcoming wedding, not only because she adores his partner, Jesse, but also because she’ll also finally have the sister she’s always longed for—Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, a fellow fifth grader who lives in California.
In The List of Things That Will Not Change, a dazzling middle grade novel from Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead, Bea’s life is filled to the brim with good friends and wonderfully supportive adults. Sometimes Bea’s life seems downright idyllic, as when her restaurateur father stashes surprise meals in his ex-wife’s fridge, or when Bea and her friend Angus sip soda together in Bea’s father’s restaurant. But Bea has painful eczema and a host of paralyzing worries, not to mention a deeply buried secret that’s quietly gnawing away at her conscience.
Navigating family and friends can be tough, of course. As Bea grows more and more excited about the upcoming nuptials, her father cautions, “Family can turn their backs on you, just like anyone else. I’m sorry to say it.” Stead tackles this delicate theme in grand style, not only celebrating the glorious ways that family and friends can support one another but also showing—in quite a surprise move—how family members can occasionally be backstabbing.
Even for enthusiastic, likable Bea, anger frequently gets the best of her, such as when she violently throws Angus off a chair during a game of musical chairs or when she hits an irritating classmate in the face. Bea resists going to therapy, but her therapist patiently offers helpful advice in session after session, cautioning Bea to try to start “thinking two steps ahead” of her actions and teaching her valuable strategies for corralling her fears.
Plot and characters reveal themselves naturally as The List of Things That Will Not Change unfolds, and small details later reappear to tightly and brilliantly weave together a plethora of themes. Books that successfully address divorce, remarriage and their many complicated repercussions from a child’s point of view are uncommon—and all the more valuable for it.
Stead has proven herself once again to be a masterful storyteller. The List of Things That Will Not Change is a messy but ultimately glorious family celebration that’s not to be missed.