Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone, Tae Keller’s first book since winning the 2021 Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger, begins at “the end of everything” for friends Mallory, Reagan and Tess. During a middle school orchestra concert, Reagan’s phone buzzes with a text message from Pete, whose dad is the sheriff of their small town of Norwell, Florida: Jennifer Chan ran away. The news spreads quickly through the Gibbons Academy chapel, but only Mallory, Reagan and Tess have any idea where Jennifer might have gone or why.
Mallory never felt she fit in until sixth grade, when Reagan moved to town, became her best friend and taught her the secrets of middle school popularity and “how the world worked.” So when Mallory meets Jennifer, the new girl in their seventh grade class, and learns that Jennifer has no interest in following Reagan’s unspoken rules, Mallory knows that befriending her is a terrible idea. But Jennifer is a very hard person to say no to, and Mallory finds herself swept up in Jennifer’s epic mission to become the first person to contact aliens. As Mallory’s new friend and best friend clash, Mallory is caught between them—with devastating consequences.
Shifting back and forth in time between Jennifer’s arrival in Norwell and the aftermath of her disappearance, Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone depicts the difficult choices many young people face. It takes courage to be yourself instead of fitting in, to do the right thing instead of what feels good, even when you know it’s wrong. Middle school can be the hardest years of a child’s life, and Keller honestly explores many of the reasons why, including bullying, racism and the fear that one false move can bring your whole life tumbling down.
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone is a frank, thought-provoking, sometimes painful but ultimately uplifting story about looking outside yourself to discover who you really are.