MMGM and #IMWAYR (4/20/2020): The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

For MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am recommending The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead.




          Before I describe this book in particular, it seems like an appropriate time to mention that Rebecca Stead is one of my favorite authors ever. I loved her Newbery-winning book When You Reach Me so much that it was the first book I ever reviewed (you can see the post here), and I loved her last solo book Goodbye Stranger so much that, since I thought my first review didn't do it justice, I reviewed it again. (Looking back at my first review, I apparently knew it didn't do the book justice since the moment I wrote it!) Rebecca Stead is such a truly amazing author that, when I heard The List of Things That Will Not Change was coming out, I would have bought a copy without even reading what it's about. I suspect many of you feel the same way, since I've seen quite a few people who have read or are reading this book. Whether you've already finished it or are somehow still on the fence, read on!

          When Bea was 8 years old, her parents got divorced, in large part because her father realized he was gay. To help her through such a big change in her life, her parents gave her a notebook with a list of things that would not change (such as that her parents would still love her just as much). Two years later, Bea (who has also endured struggles with anxiety) finally gets some good news: her father is getting married to a man named Jesse, and Jesse has a daughter named Sonia who will become Bea's sister! As an only child, Bea is thrilled, but, of course, things aren't quite that simple. While narrating the story at the age of 12, Bea looks back at the time leading up to the wedding, as she tackles the challenges of family and anxiety, as well as lingering guilt from something she once did.

          There is so much that I love about this book that I don't even know where to begin! I guess the first thing I'll say is that The List of Things That Will Not Change is such a truly special book in part because of Stead's skill at writing. I had an English teacher who told me that poets always choose every word in a poem to convey meaning; there is never any wasted space. That is how Rebecca Stead writes. Every word that Bea tells in this book's 216 pages says something about her, the people around her, or the challenges she is facing. No space in this book is wasted; I would be completely unsurprised if you read every sentence while smiling spontaneously (which I caught myself doing many times). In addition, Stead has always had an incredible knack for noticing the moments in life that are beautiful and meaningful. Moments like Bea dancing in her room with her earbuds in, Bea referencing Star Trek with her babysitter and future aunt Sheila, or Bea listening to tape-recordings of her grandfather are details most authors would not include. But Stead does, and that makes this book's story real. In addition, the characters in this book are so well-developed that I can't believe it. Stead went to the trouble of thinking up specific details about each character that make them feel so much more real than the characters of other books, which are basically caricatures in comparison. I know that Jesse wakes up early, I know that Sheila wears cowboy boots, I know that Bea has eczema, I know that Bea's mother relied on her ex-husband to cook (which makes sense, since he owns a restaurant) and has to learn to cook on her own. And that brings me to the last thing I want to say before I say a bunch more in the next paragraph: kids' books are written by adults. It's a given. The problem is that being a child is such a unique experience that many authors only capture parts of it. Children have the mental space and the lack of preconceived notions to observe things that adults don't, just as Bea relates the many facts about the characters of the story. In The List of Things That Will Not Change, Stead has managed to capture the true experience of being a child in a way that no other book has. Even if you don't relate to having anxiety, or having divorced parents, or having gay parents, you can probably relate to having once been a child (with all of the joy and pain that comes with such an age), and it is for that reason that you are pretty much guaranteed to see yourself in The List of Things That Will Not Change.

          But I'm not done. Oh, no. There are a few specific aspects about this book that I want to home in on. First of all, in the story, Bea sees a therapist named Miriam for help with her anxiety. Not many books have characters who see therapists (Guts by Raina Telgemeier is a fabulous exception), and I think part of the reason is that faithfully depicting therapy requires an understanding of therapy, and it is usually only therapists themselves that have this understanding. As someone who saw a therapist as a child myself, however, I can say that The List of Things That Will Not Change depicts therapy on a level on par with Guts (which is to say, so realistically as to be jaw-dropping). Just as Miriam plays Connect Four with Bea at her first appointment instead of bringing up anything hard yet, I remember drawing in the office of my own therapist and getting acquainted at my first appointment too. Miriam also has truly useful advice: at one point, Bea talks about learning from Miriam to set aside a few minutes a day solely to worry and telling her worries to leave during the rest of the day, which is a brilliant idea! If you've ever been to a good therapist, you will definitely relate to the therapy scenes in this book.

          I also want to talk about how this book discusses Bea's dad and Jesse being gay. Short answer: really well! Long answer: One thing I love is that you see everything from Bea's perspective, which brings up some interesting ideas. You might expect, for example, that Bea might have questions about all of this, but that she might also be okay with it, not having any preconceived notions about whether it is good or bad (and indeed, Bea does have questions and is okay with it). However, what you might not expect is that, when people are cruel or not understanding to Bea's dad and Jesse, Bea (who loves them both) is just as mad or heartbroken as you might expect them to be (although they handle everything with a level of grace that the vast majority of the world lacks). The book also makes one of the most beautiful, insightful points I've ever seen on page 149: Bea's father loves a lot of people, but what makes his relationship with Jesse special is that there was a chance that it wouldn't have been allowed, that they wouldn't have gotten to love each other in the way that they love so many other people. If you are a gay parent, or are a child of gay parents, you have some wonderful representation in this book, and if you aren't, you will definitely learn quite a bit!

          I could go on so much longer (I didn't even talk about Bea's relationship with her future sister Sonia, or the guilt she has, or the beautifully wonderful [or wonderfully beautiful] wedding, but I hope you'll believe me when I say that all of that is amazing as well), but I have to conclude with this tidbit: as I read this book, I found myself coming up with ideas about what to say in this post. I don't normally think so far ahead, but I think that, as I read this book, I felt like I had to do something in return for being given the gift of such a truly spectacular book. If I haven't convinced you to read this book yet, then I don't think I can, except maybe with this: you will see yourself in this book, you will learn so much from this book, and you will end this book feeling wiser, smarter, and, above all, happier!

Update (1/2/2021): My rating is: Stunning!



Comments

  1. I jus finished reading this yesterday. Yes, I will get my hands on Rebecca Stead's books with no information other than she wrote them. This book does not disappoint on any level. It's truly a beautiful book. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  2. I love Rebecca Stead and already have this on reserve at the library. You and Rosi have me super excited to read it.

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  3. I love Rebecca Stead too and can't wait to read this one!

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  4. I haven't read a lot of Rebecca Stead. I must change that. I especially like how she deals with the therapeutic issues. You are right, you don't see many kids going to therapists in books -- and it is a very healthy reality of life. I try to put myself into Bea's shoes and wonder, how does a teen deal with a parent who is gay. In today's world things are different and more open, but in my youth it would have been devestating. I did watch a friend's daughter go through this 40 years ago and it was tough. So, I'm curious how she dealt with the topic. Look forward to reading this book.

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    1. I definitely hope you try some of Stead's books! Also, I can't imagine what having gay parents must have been like 40 years ago (besides the obvious stigma and stress)! I hope you enjoy the book!

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  5. Oh my. This was a wonderful review and preview of this book. I have this one my stack and am eager to read it. Your love for the author and her writing is contagious. I have not read her other book but I also have that book in my classroom library. I will definitely move her book up to the top of my TBR stack!

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  6. I read this one and also enjoyed it. Not my favorite Stead book though, but certainly close behind LIAR & SPY and WHEN YOU REACH ME.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the book as well! Thanks for reading my post!

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  7. I have Rebecca's new book in my stack and have seen it featured on a lot of blogs this week. Based on your review, I might have to move it up my stack ASAP. Have a great week!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it, once you read it! Have a great week as well!

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  8. I really enjoyed this one and just purchased the audiobook of Goodbye Stranger, today. I read When You Reach Me back-to-back with A Wrinkle in Time since so many in our community were recommending them as a pair. Thanks for sharing your in-depth review and I hope you have a wonderful reading week!

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, and I hope you enjoy Goodbye Stranger as well—it's one of my other favorite books ever! Also, that's a great idea to read When You Reach Me and A Wrinkle in Time at the same time, considering how When You Reach Me pulls from A Wrinkle in Time! Thanks for reading my post, and have a wonderful reading week as well!

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    2. I'm so happy to hear it's one of your favorites! Chirp audiobooks had it on sale for 75% off, today. So if you're interested in the audiobook format, feel free to hop on over and grab it (if you're not familiar with Chirp, you just have to use their free app to listen to the books you buy).

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  9. I also really loved this book, and all things Rebecca Stead writes. We just bought another copy of First Light just in case the one we already had does not make it back from whomever we lent it to. This review was a nice reminder of so many of the things I loved about the book. The little details are all there. Thanks for the post!

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  10. I've been a huge fan of Rebecca Stead since FIRST LIGHT. That was the book she wrote before WHEN YOU REACH ME! I've read all of her books except this one. And it's on order. Can't wait to read it! Thanks for an insightful review.

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  11. Oh, this sounds just wonderful! I also loved When You Reach Me but haven't read any other novels of hers since ... but I want to! This one sounds like a good place to start. Thanks for the in-depth and thoughtful review - and for stopping by my blog and taking the time to leave a comment!

    Enjoy your books this week -

    Sue

    Book By Book

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