When Henrietta Weldon’s parents decide that she should switch from private to public school for seventh grade, Henri is excited—and determined to hide her nerves. Between her messy bedroom and her struggles with math, Henri’s family of competitive overachievers treat her like “a problem to be solved.” Her older sister, Kat, refuses to answer Henri’s questions about Alterra Junior/Senior High School, instead insisting that Henri needs to “figure things out for herself,” which makes Henri eager to prove her whole family wrong.
With help from a kind teacher and the right tutor, Henri’s trouble with math turns out to be manageable, no matter how many times her brain tries to flip numbers around. It’s the rest of seventh grade that proves to be the real challenge. Between forgetting important deadlines, trying to convince her parents to let her join the soccer team and making new friends Kat instantly dislikes, Henri must solve the seemingly impossible problem of balancing everything she wants to do while keeping everyone else happy.
Coretta Scott King Honor author Tanita S. Davis’ two previous middle grade novels, Serena Says and Partly Cloudy, depict young people carving out identities and creating supportive spaces for themselves, and Davis explores similar themes in Figure It Out, Henri Weldon. As Henri confronts situations that range from remembering to read a friend’s short story to caring for her sick pet, Wil Snakespeare, she stays motivated to persevere, whether out of love for her friends or sheer spiteful desire to defy her family’s expectations. As Henri gets to know her friends’ close-knit foster family, their supportive bonds contrast starkly with Henri’s own family, enabling her to recognize how harshly they often behave toward one another. Eventually, Henri realizes there isn’t necessarily a wrong way to love, as long as you’re trying.
The novel’s large cast of characters, along with Davis’ honest depiction of the sometimes antagonistic relationships between siblings, is relatable and authentic. Short excerpts from Henri’s journal open each chapter, grounding the book in a realistic sense of optimism that makes it easy to cheer her on. Figure It Out, Henri Weldon will encourage young readers to take a breath and keep trying, even when the odds—or their families—don’t always seem in their favor.
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