Navigating middle school is difficult enough, and Noah is doing his best despite the fact that his sister Emma is struggling with a health issue that threatens to derail his entire family. His days are filled with typical 7th grade hormonal and emotional disasters. His best friend is involved with a girl complete with holding hands and kissing with tongue. There's the first dance jitters to contend with. Should he ask a girl to dance or sit safely on the sidelines? Each day ends with an often uncomfortable carpool ride that takes him home to homework and chores.
Noah's small school has its perks. Classes are small and most of the kids have been together forever. Teachers take the time to get to know their students and offer positive support whenever necessary. There's even a school cat - a hairless feline who wanders the halls and classrooms wearing jaunty little vests to keep his rather creepy little figure toasty and warm.
Along with the perks come decided disadvantages. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and when Noah's sister relapses, the real stress begins. Talkative friends become suddenly silent, and teachers become nosey question askers. As Noah's feelings of guilt and anger increase, all he wants is to be left alone.
Author Jo Knowles takes on the task of illustrating how an eating disorder effects a family. Noah and his parents completely change their lives to accommodate Emma as she tries to deal with her illness, but despite carefully expressed feelings and craftily prepared meals, she reverts to old habits and ends up back in rehab. Noah misses her and must learn that life goes on even though he hears his parents crying and arguing nightly as he tries to come to terms with his own role in the family's situation.
I don't mean to make this book sound like a depressing, downer of a read. It is filled with warmth and humor that will have readers smiling, chuckling, and sighing pleasantly time and time again. Knowles's middle grade humor matches that of authors Jordan Sonnenblick, David Lubar, and Brent Crawford, making it a sure winner with boys as well as girls.
There has been recent criticism of books written for middle grade readers involving topics such as heroine addiction, gender issues, and autism. Some argue that these are topics that should not be introduced in fiction for readers of this age. I completely disagree! Books like STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS can provide just what kids need to better understand what may be going on in their own lives or the lives of someone close to them. We need this kind of diversity in children's and adolescent literature now more than ever.