cover image Solving for M

Solving for M

Jennifer Swender, illus. by Jennifer Naalchigar. Crown, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-93290-2

Debut author Swender cleverly tells the story of shy artist Mika Barnes by interspersing entries of an illustrated math journal throughout her first-person narrative. Mika lives with her mother in New York’s Hudson Valley and rarely sees her father and his new wife, who live in Florida. Mika’s first year as a fifth grader at Highbridge Middle School promises to be challenging: she’s in a different pod than her best friend, and her math teacher, Mr. Vann, teaches in a wholly unconventional way—using a math journal to “embark on reflective discussions of relevant math issues.” When she finds out that her mom has melanoma, it’s Mr. Vann and his journal prompts, along with two new unlikely friends at school, that help her cope. Mika’s journal entries prove both amusing and touching as she expresses her uncertainty and fear through numbers and drawings, and Swender nicely captures the mind-set of a child struggling to understand a parent’s illness. Though Mika seems more like a bystander watching things unfold than a protagonist evolving over time, the unusual format and the author’s realistic portrayal of a girl navigating social and familial issues make this a worthy read. Ages 8–12. [em]Author’s agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (May) [/em]