Erin Entrada Kelly Draws (Literally) From Her Life in a New Illustrated Middle Grade Series

Maybe Marisol Rainey
by Erin Entrada Kelly

“Maybe Marisol Rainey,” the first book in a new series by Erin Entrada Kelly, is about friendship and fear.

Marisol Raney is a child who is prone to anxiety. The kind of anxiety that keeps her from doing what she wants to do. Marisol is afraid to swim, and new places, and heavy relatives, and to be alone in the car. “Why do I have to be afraid of everything all the time? There’s no one else, Marisol thinks.”

She admits that she alone has this kind of anxiety. So she would be good company for some similar readers. Marisol is proof, if they are concerned, they are not alone.

Looks at Marisol’s personality things, And gives them the respect she thinks they deserve by naming them. The fridge is buster (for Buster Keaton, who had “a lot going on under the surface”), the sofa is Betty Bigmouth (it “loves to eat things”).

Trees in her new backyard? She names it after a character played by another silent film star, Mary Pickford. “Marisol said, ‘Hello, Pepina.’ Like she’s greeting a bowl of cold oatmeal.” The fall is one of Marisol’s biggest fears. Through most of the book she lies on the ground — palms sweating, heart pounding — while her older brother, Oz; his best friend, Stu; her cat, Jelly Beans; And her best friend, Jada George, sits in Pepina, legs swinging. It doesn’t matter to Jada. “It’s the thing about best friends,” notes Marisol. “They don’t care about all the things you can’t.”

Friendship is a common theme in Kelly’s novels, vividly revealing the vulnerability and suffering of early adolescence, when friendship is of utmost importance. In her Newbery Medal-winning “Hello, Universe,” she lays her finger on who children choose to accept cruelty. No-So-good friends: “Bad friends were better than no friends at all,” explains the deaf Valencia. “And besides, I thought they were my real friends.”

So it’s a relief that Marisol is a good friend of Rainey’s. And she herself knows how to be a good friend. When she vents her frustrations on Jada, she apologizes, then decides to tell the whole truth: “I’m mad at myself.”

It’s a book of truth, witty insights and metaphors, and – for the first time – Kelly’s own illustrations, which are light-heartedly poignant.

Marisol, like Kelly, is Filipino American. The other characters are from many different backgrounds, and have many different ways of seeing and interacting with the world. Separation is normal in Kelly’s books. The characters struggle with their differences, but Kelly’s actual language shows us how common the difference is. This is one of the things that I love about her books, as well as the spot-on depiction of her childhood.

“Maybe Maybe Marisol Renee” doesn’t pack the same punch as “Hello, Universe” or her most recent novel, “We dream of space” – Both so gritty and so brave. It’s a softer, gentler book for readers on the lower end of the 8-to-12 range.

In the end, Marisol suddenly turns on Pepina. But Kelly doesn’t tell us how Marisol overcomes her fears, when will and determination have failed her every time before. What does he get in Pepina this time? Any reader who is sometimes in a quandary wants to know.

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