MMGM and #IMWAYR: Just Pretend by Tori Sharp

I have a few quick notes before we move into today's review. First of all, I have finally set up a Goodreads account for my blog! It is currently a bit of a mess, and I will be trying to get it finished up over the next few weeks. And if you're already reading my blog, I honestly wouldn't bother looking at my Goodreads—it's only going to have mini-reviews of the books I'm already reviewing on my blog anyway, along with links back to my blog. But I hope it will be a useful way for new readers to discover my blog so that my posts don't just disappear into the ether! You can visit my Goodreads profile here.

Also, some quick self-promotion: I have started a photography blog, A Scrapbook of Stories, that I am using primarily to participate in the #2021picoftheweek challenge hosted by MMGM's own Of Maria Antonia (which is also now open to book bloggers)! Make sure to stop by if you're interested. I also revisited my reviews from July to December 2020 in another Thursday Thoughts post—make sure to check it out!

One more thing: at the recommendation of Helen at Helen's Book Blog, I signed up for a free service called Feedly where you can see all the new posts from the blogs you read in one place. And it is awesome! I had previously been using a chaotic mix of email subscriptions and the Blogger reading list to keep up with other bloggers, but Feedly is really nice mostly because you can actually mark things as read and take them off the list, so all you ever see is new posts to read. It's great!

I'm back for MMGM another week in a row, and it's possible that I'll be back next week too—I'm on a bit of a weird reading schedule right now! So I may or may not take an extended break from MMGM in the coming weeks. Anyway, for MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am recommending the delightful graphic novel Just Pretend by Tori Sharp.

298 pages

        I decided to read Just Pretend after seeing it recommended by the wonderful Sierra Dertinger at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed, and I'm so glad I did! I'm low on energy, so here's the publisher's description of the book:

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Fans of Real Friends and Be Prepared will love this energetic, affecting graphic memoir, in which a young girl uses her active imagination to navigate middle school as well as the fallout from her parents' divorce. 

Tori has never lived in just one world.

Since her parents' divorce, she's lived in both her mom's house and her dad's new apartment. And in both places, no matter how hard she tries, her family still treats her like a little kid. Then there's school, where friendships old and new are starting to feel more and more out of her hands.

Thankfully, she has books—and writing. And now the stories she makes up in her head just might save her when everything else around her—friendships, school, family—is falling apart.

Author Tori Sharp takes us with her on a journey through the many commonplace but complex issues of fractured families, as well as the beautiful fantasy narrative that helps her cope, gorgeously illustrated and full of magic, fairies, witches and lost and found friendships.

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        I've noticed that I've mostly stopped liking MG books centered solely around typical middle-school drama. I prefer a bit more exploration of other real-world themes, and just last week, I was aggravated by Truly Tyler for its narrow focus on messages I've heard a bazillion times in books like it. But somewhat surprisingly, this middle-school-drama-focused book, Just Pretend, was engrossing enough that I read pages 36 to 298 (the end) in a single hour, barely putting the book down! So I'd like to take some time discussing what was so enjoyable about Just Pretend.

        First of all, Tori (who, since this is a memoir, is not a fictional character) is an impressively compelling protagonist. Tori isn't a big fan of school, and we see several times it's because she's too smart to keep sitting around, hearing the same lessons repeated over and over. So Tori finds other ways to entertain herself, such as teaching the class to build paper mailboxes on their desks and send letters to each other, or initiating games of make-believe with her friends during recess. She reminds me a lot of Olive from Kayla Miller's books in her ability to get the other kids at school excited about her ideas—and she has plenty of ideas to get them excited about! Tori's creativity and imagination shine through the most in the fantasy story she is writing throughout the book, filled with magical beings discovering our world or trying to save their own—and delightfully, parts of her story are shown to the reader in comic form (like the rest of the book), allowing readers to see that her ideas are quite interesting and well-thought-out! Some of Tori's teachers think that she isn't paying attention in class, and that's true, but it's only because (a) she doesn't really need to and (b) it's far more interesting to channel her energy into her many passions. (Luckily, we do see a teacher later on who learns to capture Tori's attention—there's an interesting underlying theme here about education.) Tori's life is depicted in art that, while not necessarily gorgeous or inviting of prolonged stares, is clear, bright, and engaging, in a similar vein to Raina Telgemeier and Molly Knox Ostertag. (And the art is filled with references to the 1990s, when this story is set—IM, Snake, and busy signals, anyone?) One random comment before we move on: I was never totally sure how old Tori was in this story, or if she aged as the book went on, so that is slightly strange.

        It wouldn't be an MG graphic memoir without the middle-school drama, and there's plenty of that too in Just Pretend. Tori spends much of her time in school with her best friend, Taylor, and two other friends, but they find themselves in different classes more often than not, unfortunately. Tori's friends love fantasy and make-believe just as much as she does, whether it's over recess, in video games, or in written stories. But Tori's friendships go somewhat awry over the course of the story, with aggravating inside jokes, secrets and silence, and even friends outside of the friend group having to move away completely. Tori has done a good job in the past of making school somewhere she wants to be, but her friendship drama only adds to the other stress she's already dealing with (as mentioned in the next paragraph). One complaint I do have is that some kind of drama happens involving Taylor's home life that is literally not explained at all and makes no sense. But in general, the depiction of friend drama is true-to-life without being overly depressing or obnoxious, so it gets my thumbs-up overall! 

        Finally, one of the biggest themes of Just Pretend is how Tori deals with her family. Her mother and father are divorced, and she and her older siblings Ryan and Emily move back and forth between them. Family drama boils over the course of this book: we have Tori's mother insisting that Tori accompany her and Emily to ballet practice when Tori is certain that she can stay home alone. We have conflict between Tori and her older brother Ryan. We have the slowly-dawning realization, at least to me, that Tori's happy-go-lucky father is a bit too childlike and irresponsible. And we have the drama of families moving houses and apartments, both permanently and temporarily (Tori sometimes forgets tons of things while packing just to go to her dad's apartment). Family drama tends to be an afterthought in a lot of books—we all have it, so we all forget that we even have it, so we forget to write about it. But Tori Sharp has made sure to show how aggravating families can be—and how great, too. Tori's sister Emily is supportive of her, and her father and his girlfriend, Jane, both support her writing endeavors. And even Tori's mother, who comes across as a bit mean and unattentive, develops over the course of the story too. I feel like there wasn't necessarily a clear moral or a clean resolution to the family plotlines—a conflict is introduced and then resolved so quickly that I didn't even notice the conflict had happened at all until they were throwing the resolution in my face. But overall, I really like how faithful and relatable Just Pretend's depiction of family life is.

        Just Pretend may sound like a relatively simple story, but Tori Sharp has a level of storytelling skill that makes this story surprisingly enjoyable to read! This book may be one of the closest approximations I've seen of Raina Telgemeier's Smile—while the plotting isn't as pitch-perfect, the mixture of creative fun and relatable struggles is one that kids will gobble up! Overall, if you're looking for a fun, quick read for yourself or the young readers in your life, make sure to take a look at Just Pretend!

My rating is: Pretty good!



My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 2!




Comments

  1. I am so glad you're liking Feedly. I just love how simple it is and that I have only one place to go to read blogs.

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    1. It is seriously wonderful! I've been using it all week to keep up with the blogs I like, and it is way more convenient than the hodgepodge of things I was using before. So thank you for recommending it, and thank you for stopping by and commenting as well!

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  2. Sounds like you've gotten a lot done this week with getting set up on Goodreads and Feedly. I've been doing pretty good with my Blogger roll. This sounds like a great book. I love that Tori is writing a fantasy story as part of the story.

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    1. Thank you—I'm going to try to spend more time this week on the actual reading and blogging of it all, and less on extra tasks, but those can definitely be useful too! And the fantasy story being included within the book is a really clever touch—I saw a similar thing in last week's review of Truly Tyler, but to be frank, Tori's story is much more interesting and compelling! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. What a busy week you have had. I had never heard of Just Pretend, so thank you for the heads up. It sounds like an interesting book for middle graders and graphic novel recommendations are always welcome.

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    1. I haven't seen much buzz about it yet, which might be because it's so new—I wonder if more reviews will start to pop up over time. I hope you enjoy the book if you try it out, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  4. I didn't know about this book. Sounds like one many students would like. I love Feedly, too. It makes keeping up with blog posts pretty easy.

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    1. It really does—I love it! And yes, I suspect tons of young readers will love this story, considering its themes and writing style. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  5. I taught middle-school students and had more than one tell me about the challenges with two households, some heart wrenching when it first began. I know they would have loved this book! Thanks for sharing so much about it!

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    1. I think there's quite a few challenges with living in two households, and it really is startling how few books discuss that sort of thing (another that comes to mind besides this one is The List of Things That Will Not Change). So I hope young readers will find this story valuable! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  6. Divorce is always hard for teens -- especially when you're navigating two households. This sounds like classic MG. And I love that Tori is writing a fantasy story in this novel -- don't see that in many books.. She sounds energetic and someone you'd want as a best friend. Great review as always!

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    1. Thank you so much! Tori is definitely the sort of character you'd want as a best friend—she has tons of fun ideas, but she's also quite likable and is a good friend to others in the story. And you definitely don't see many protagonists writing their own stories! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  7. Great themes for a middle grade book. The MC also sounds compelling and someone you'd like to follow along in their story. Thanks for the Feedly site. I get a list from WordPress but will check this out. Congrats also on your photography blog. I have always enjoyed taking pictures (and seeing Maria's work). I'll take a look at what you come up with.

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    1. The themes and main character are both awesome elements of this story, and I hope readers make sure to pick it up! And thank you about the photography blog—since I already enjoyed Maria Antonia's photography on her blog, I figured her challenge would be a fun way to brush up on my own photography skills! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. This does look cute. Thanks for sharing.

    And thanks for the shout-out about my photo challenge! :)

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    1. Of course—I'm excited to be participating in the challenge! And I hope you enjoy Just Pretend if you get a chance to try it. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. Graphic memoirs are rare, but becoming a bit more popular. Thanks for telling me about this one. Maybe I will check it out.

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    1. I think since Raina Telgemeier wrote her 3 successful graphic memoirs, Smile, Sisters, and Guts, people have been racing to get more published! And there have been a few others that I know were popular, like the Real Friends series by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (which I haven't read). Also, I appreciate you following me on Goodreads! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  10. I hadn't heard about this one yet - it sounds good! Sounds similar to Raina's graphic memoirs (which I love) and I like that it tackles some real-life issues.I think a lot of kids' book sort of simplify the issue of divorce without getting into the details.

    Thanks for the review ... and welcome to Goodreads!

    Sue

    2021 Big Book Summer Challenge

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    1. It's definitely similar to Raina Telgemeier's memoirs—I wouldn't say it's as good (and honestly, what is?), but it's a close approximation for readers looking for more books like that! And the divorce element isn't particularly simplified in this book—it's not always front and center, but there's quite a few little details pulled out of that experience. And I appreciate you connecting with me on Goodreads! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  11. I did not know about Feedly so thank you for sharing it. I love memoirs and a graphic novel, even better.

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    1. No problem! And I'm glad you enjoy graphic novels and memoirs—this might be right up your alley! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  12. The art of Just Pretend (based on the book cover) reminds me a bit of the graphic novel version of The Babysitters Club by Telgemeier. It sounds like a lot of fun!
    Thank you for sharing about Feedly too. :)

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    1. I think that's a fair comparison! I've never actually read any of Raina Telgemeier's Babysitters' Club adaptations, but I love her other graphic novels so much that maybe I should! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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