cover image Ellen Outside the Lines

Ellen Outside the Lines

A.J. Sass. Little, Brown, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7595-5627-0

Sass’s (Ana on the Edge) sophomore novel explores classic struggles of navigating identity, relationships, and social expectations via an autistic, queer, Jewish 13-year-old traveling on a class trip to Spain. Having carefully planned out each day based on the previous year’s syllabus, Ellen Katz hopes to reconnect with best friend Laurel McKinley, starting on the flight from Georgia to Barcelona with their mostly white class. But awkwardness with Laurel and an unexpected schedule pivot—to a scavenger hunt with an unfamiliar group of students—leave the teen grasping for stability, despite the presence of Ellen’s beloved Abba as a parent chaperone. Facing changing plans and conflicting loyalties, Ellen finds support in family, faith, and new friends, including nonbinary classmate Isa, who is Latinx. The first-person narration, studded with Hebrew phrases, sympathetically details Ellen’s experiences of social anxiety and sensory overload while paving a route to friends who don’t blink at Ellen’s accommodations—and around whom Ellen enjoys life as well as feels free to consider gender and sexuality. The story’s beautiful locales and scavenger hunt puzzles frame a heartwarming story about a transitional period in life, conveyed alongside an affirming, incidental portrayal of Ellen’s experiences. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jordan Hamessley, New Leaf Literary.(Mar.)