Friday, October 22, 2021

Susie B. Won't Back Down by Margaret Finnegan

Fifth grader Susie B. describes herself as a "butterfly brain" because of her attention and impulse control issues. When it is announced that Student Council elections will be held, she decides she wants to run for president and her best friend Joselyn decides to run treasurer. Together, they plan their strategy, but Susie B.'s motivations aren't exactly presidential - she really just wants to be able to use the microphone for leading the Pledge of Allegiance everyday, fighting for "the rights of all people, all the time," including polar bears and paragraph writers, and for having eternal glory. 

Of course, the most popular kids in fifth grade are also running for office. Susie and Joselyn realize that their best hope of getting elected is to have popular, perfect Chloe and her friends on their side. Only problem is they don't like each other.

Meanwhile, their teacher, Mr. Springer, has assigned the class a hero's project in which each student can choose the hero of their choice. Susie B., who has always disliked being call that, decides it isn't so bad after all when she chooses Susan B. Anthony. Except that the more she learns about her chosen hero, the more Susie B. becomes disillusioned.

The, when Susie B. gets angry and tells Chloe she's mean in class, Joselyn thinks they have lost any chance of winning the election. When she tells Susie to let her deal with Chloe. Susie B. agrees, but it's beginning to look like Joselyn is really having a lot more fun with Chloe and her friends. 

Susie B. records all the day to day fifth grade dramatics in epistolary form in a notebook addressed to Susan B. Anthony, including all the negative information she discovers about her hero/not hero. With the election isn't going well, Susan B. Anthony proving herself not to be the hero Susie B. thought she was, and now feeling like her best friend is abandoning her, Susie is feeling discouraged, but it also gives her the chance to get to know other kids in her class better, including Carson, who turns out to be a great artist and a real help, as well as her opponent Danny Rodriguez, who is pretty nice after all, and really doesn't want to be the golden boy he is forced to be by his parents. 

Susie B. Won't Back Down is a delightful novel about being who you are and finding where you fit in in the world. For Susie, that means being honest with yourself and others, but she still has a lot to learn and paradoxes to grapple with. For instance, can Susan B. Anthony be a hero and not a hero at the same time? Discovering that the people you think are perfect are quite fallible and not always who they appear to be is one of those lessons in life all kids must deal with sooner or later, and fifth grade is the year that Susie B. learns this lesson. And though she may deal with it inappropriately at times, it is a lesson she eventually comes to terms with. 

Although the novel is completely written in letters addressed to Susan B. Anthony, none of Susie B.'s exuberance, honesty, or disappointments is lost. I did like that Susie has an intact family who is supportive and seem to understand her attention challenges, though they don't seem to play a big part in her life and aren't really developed, unlike the character of her half brother, Lock. I did think it odd that though Lock is biracial, it never really figures into the story. However, Lock is the voice of reason in Susie's life, even if she doesn't want to hear what he has to say sometimes. But it is clear that the two love and care deeply about each other.

I wouldn't call Susie B. Won't Back Down a coming-of-age novel per se, but it is certainly the start of that self-discovery process for Susie B, and Finnegan handles it with honesty and humor and a few tears. Don't miss meeting this charming young lady. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC gratefully received from Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media.
Susie is energetic, breathless, enthusiastic, and genuinely, charmingly funny.” —Kirkus Reviews

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Margaret Finnegan is the author of the middle-grade novels Susie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Her writing often focuses on themes on inclusion, hard choices, and being true to yourself. She also makes a really good chocolate cake. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

Check out the fun mock newspaper, The Susie B News--available for download here!

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