I always enjoy books by Sarah Weeks. She writes heartfelt, fun, quick MG reads. They are universally easy to book talk and sell. Whenever she has a new book out, I try to read it as soon as possible. I was even more excited by Save Me a Seat due to its synopsis and format. Sarah Weeks wrote this book with Gita Varadarajan and it follows two boys in their first week of fifth grade.
Ravi is newly arrived in America from India. He is excited about starting a new school. He was at the top of his class in India and an excellent cricket player. He knows he will impress all of his new classmates and teachers. He will begin to make friends and things will be wonderful. Things do not go as Ravi planned however. His teacher implies he may need help with English even though he speaks English just fine. His Math process is completely different. The one person he thought would be his friend turns on him.
Joe is not exited about starting school. After all, he's gone to this school since Kindergarten and knows exactly what to expect from class bully Dillon. It doesn't help that his only two friends moved over the summer and his mom has taken a job as a lunch monitor. Joe always has one eye on Dillon because he's learned from experience the unpleasant results of letting Dillon sneak up on him. Joe knows exactly what is in store for Ravi, and but Ravi doesn't seem to want his help.
Any one familiar with the tropes and stories of MG lit is not going to be surprised by the course this book takes. What makes it special and stand out is the strength of the voices and characterization of both of the boys. The story is told in first person perspective in alternating chapters from each boys' point of view. Individually each boy's story is strong. Through Ravi we get a brilliant picture of what it is like to try to navigate a completely foreign place that you now live. Even though the language barrier is not there because Ravi speaks English (as do many immigrants). Ravi is a bit over confident and grows a lot over the course of the book. Joe has a sensory disorder that makes school hard for him. He is smart but has a hard time focusing. This plus his size as the largest kid in the class makes him a target for the class bully. Joe also grows a lot over the course of the book learning to be more assertive and speak his mind. Eventually the two boys form an alliance with the potential to be a great friendship. Their individual stories are made stronger for being combined. Having both fills in gaps and shows a greater wider picture of the school culture. This is not only a brilliant story telling device abut also serves the larger theme of the story incredibly well.
Aside from the boys, my favorite part of this book is the adults. There are fantastic teachers in this book and I found how they worked with the kids to be incredibly accurate. Even better than that is the involvement and care of the parents. Both Ravi and Joe have parents who care deeply for them and want to help even as they come up agains misunderstanding and the boys' push for independence and desire to fix things themselves. As things that take place at school are influenced by home (and vice versa), it was important to see both environments balanced in both boys' stories.
I haven't seen much talk about this book and would love to see more. It is an excellent work of realistic fiction that will work as both a window and a mirror for almost any child. Like most of Weeks's other books, it is short and easy to book talk. I'm really hoping we see more from Varadarajan in the future too.