cover image How to Become a Planet

How to Become a Planet

Nicole Melleby. Algonquin, $16.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64375-036-1

A month before seventh grade’s end, Pluto Jean Timoney is gripped with a desire to “just stop”; after her terrified mother breaks down her locked bedroom door, the 12-year-old is diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Uninterested in her traditional summer activities, such as hanging out on the Jersey Shore boardwalk with her erstwhile best friend Meredith, space-loving Pluto, who is white, creates a list of tasks that she believes will return her to “the real, full Pluto” who she was before the diagnosis. In her mind, accomplishing the list also means that she won’t have to live with her father in New York City, who thinks he can get her better care. Under her mother’s concerned watch at the family pizzeria, Pluto begins a tentative journey navigating her mental health while embarking on a friendship with gender-questioning Fallon. Sprinkled with astronomy-related metaphors related to a planet’s properties, this acutely observed, authentically told tale by Melleby (In the Role of Brie Hutchens...) thoughtfully portrays Pluto’s relationship with her worried single mother, the girl’s urgent desire to “be fixed,” and her intense—and at times overpowering—depressive episodes. Compassionate secondary characters and a strong sense of place further buoy the narrative. Ages 9–12. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (May)