cover image Just Shy of Ordinary

Just Shy of Ordinary

A.J. Sass. Little, Brown, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-50617-5

After reading online that having a routine can help alleviate anxiety, nonbinary 13-year-old Shai Stern is determined to implement their “new-normal plan” to get their life under control in this luminous read. Forgoing homeschool and starting in-person eighth grade is the first step in their strategy. But entering public school means big life changes, including Shai’s leaving behind their Indigenous best friend Moose to remote learning, realizing that they’re being placed in ninth grade classes, and reckoning with the fact that cute lesbian Edie—their student guide—assumes that Shai is a girl. Suddenly, nothing is going to plan: their massive crush on Edie, an important school project about Shai’s Jewish ancestry, and the growing distance between Shai and Moose triggers Shai’s anxiety, and the painful urge to pick at their arms. Via sensitive depictions of Shai’s skin picking, as well as sincere prose that yields richly developed characters, relationships, and interactions, Sass (Ellen Outside the Lines) captures the tension and dread of grappling with a hidden illness during a tumultuous transition. Shai’s learning to manage their own challenges is palpably wrought, as is their burgeoning understanding that they’re not the only one with burdens—and that their presence is a balm for those experiencing troubles of their own. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jordan Hamessley, JABberwocky Literary Agency. (Jan.)