Sunday, May 10, 2020

MMGM: The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Twelve-year-old Bea looks back over the last 4 years, recounting her parents divorce, her father's engagement to another man, and getting to know her new stepsister.

Bea is 8-years-old when parents tell her that they would be getting a divorce, not because they don't love each other, but because her father is gay. And, they reassured her, although she would now have two homes and two rooms, some things would never change. In fact, they were so sure of that that they gave her a notebook in which they has listed all the Things That Will Not Change and green pen (Bea's favorite color) for additional entries.

Bea is 10-years-old when her dad, a chef and restauranteur, announces that he is going to marry Jesse, who works with him. Bea, who adores Jesse, is especially excited when she discovers that he has a daughter, Sonia, who is the same age and lives in California.

But Sonia's first visit to New York doesn't turn out as Bea had hoped. Sonia misses her family in California and doesn't seem very interested in anything Bea proposes, including the upcoming wedding. But Bea perseveres, writing letters and emails to Sonia, even when there is silence on the other end. Meanwhile, plans for the upcoming wedding go forward, and when Bea discovers the Jesse has a brother, she is sure he would want to be invited to the wedding, despite being told that the brothers are not on speaking terms. She decides to send him an invitation anyway, telling no one, and thinking it will be a wonderful surprise.

Throughout all these changes, Bea struggles to navigate her life around big and small challenges and upheavals, like being a poor speller in school, outbreaks of eczema, learning to trust her therapist, incidences of homophobia, a guilty conscience, and the seeming rejection by Sonia, the sister she wants to have so badly. One way of coping with all this is to add to the List of Things That Will Not Change. Knowing there are people and things that are concrete and unchanging and that she can hold on proves to be the security blanket Bea carries wherever she goes.

I began this blog back in September 2012 with a review of Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead, about which I wrote "...the story started to worm its way into my thoughts and the more that happened the more I began to really appreciate the incredibly clever way the story is woven together, each part adding to the whole picture, and the wonderful subtleties of Stead's writing." And that is the beauty of Stead's plotting and character development. She gives us characters that are easily relatable and puts them in seemingly unconnected situations and then you finish the book and, voilá, there is the whole picture, clear as could be.

And Bea is certainly relatable, simple because she is a flawed character in the way middle schoolers are flawed. She's impulsive, angry, sometimes unthinking and inappropriately physical, but always well-meaning, and she has a secret that causes major guilt feelings. She reveals her story slowly and in anecdotes that at times seem completely unconnected. In fact, she begins her narrative with one about her dad and his brother listening to the corn growing, an account that seems to have nothing to do with anything, but at the end of Bea's tale, has everything to do with everything. Each part of her narrative adds to the whole picture.

Bea's slow narration also gives readers the opportunity to get to know the people who are part of her world, all of whom are supportive and loving, but also flawed, and to see how her family's dynamics work. By the end, we see that all is not without disappointments, and there are plenty of ups and downs. But throughout it all, there is family, forgiveness, personal growth, and, of course, the list of things that will not change.

The List of Things That Will Not Change is at times poignant, funny, angsty but always real. It's a book that shouldn't be missed by tween readers, and one that should probably be read by their parents. I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from NetGalley

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.


  1. I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Stead and just read this one a few weeks ago. I loved Bea because she was so real. This was a real page turner for me, and I finished it in two days. Glad you enjoyed it so much too.

  2. Bea's story really intrigues me. This is the first time I've seen a teen who has a gay parent deal with homophobia (there are probably other stories out there.) Even though the tide has changed in the past 20 years, I can't imgaine all of the thoughts, questions and fears a teen may have. And, I'm glad that Bea sees a therapist! I love Stead, so I'll be checking this book out!

  3. I love this book as well. I am a huge Rebecca Stead fan. I've read four of her six books and loved them all. I also think the cover on this is stunning. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. I'll add my praise to the list. The story was engaging though not my favorite from Rebecca Stead. That would have to go to Liar & Spy and When You Reach Me.


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