Books by Nancy Cavanaugh are a hot commodity in the Painter house. My daughter loves them. I can not tell you how many times she has read Always Abigail. This being the case I was excited to see that there was a new book coming from Cavanaugh this year. Just Like Me is a wonderful story about friendship, cultural identity, adoption, and camp.
Julia is spending a week at camp with her "Chinese sisters" Avery and Becca, the two girls who were adopted from the same orphanage as Julia at the same time. Julia is not looking forward to this. She's looking forward even less to journaling about the experience for the woman who organized all three of their adoptions can write about them. Julia is not interested in her Chinese heritage. Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks. Julia likes crafts. Avery and Becca are athletic and competitive. Julia feels pressured. Why should she be friends with these girls just because they were born in the same place? And why should she be interested in Chinese things simply because that's where she was born? Can't she be Irish and Italian too like her adopted parents?
Julia is so tangled up about how she feels about herself and her identity. On one level Julia's struggle is one any middle schooler can relate too. Identity is a tough issue for middle schoolers to wrestle with. However, Julia's struggle is her own. Adopted from another country she doesn't remember, she has to figure out what that will mean in her life. She is also having feelings and thoughts about her birth mother and why she gave her up that lead her construct fantasies in her head she knows aren't true. All of this comes to a climax while she is at camp. Avery and Becca are good friends because they live closer to each other and Julia feels like a third wheel. The three "Chinese sisters" share a cabin with three other girls. Two of those girls are old camp rivals of Avery and Becca. The third is a foster child who is attending the camp for the first time. All six girls are very different and their relationship dynamic is realistic.
The girls do not get along. Not even a little bit. This leads to one disaster after another that gets them in trouble and leads to them losing points in the camp competition. They split themselves into pairs when they have free time. All six of them together are a disaster. But as they have to navigate a couple of punishment tasks together, they gain an appreciation for each other and start to form the loose bonds of friendship. There are some scenes that are exactly what you would imagine finding in a book that takes place at summer camp and it sets exactly the right feel for the book.
It is wonderful to have a book that deals with the complicated feelings of adopted kids-particularly those who are adopted internationally. I can't think of another book that even tries. Another thing I really appreciated about the book was its mentions of religion. The girls are at a Christian camp. They have Bible study and scripture is quoted a couple of times. This is in no way a book about becoming a Christian or even being one. It is a part of these girls' lives though and so it is included. I love that this was included. So many books completely skip over the part religion plays in so many young people's lives. It was nice to have it there as just as a thing that they do.
Kids who like contemporary friendship stories will enjoy this. It's camp setting is an added bonus I think. It's nice to have a story of this sort that isn't a school story too.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks, via Edelweiss. Just Like Me is on sale April 5.