Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Publishing Date: March 22, 2022
Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.
Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track. Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.
Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.
Thoughts and Themes: I was so thrilled when I saw this book was coming out because it has an Autistic main character and a non-binary side character. I was so excited to sign up for the tour for this book and so happy that I was admitted onto the tour. This is a book that I winded up hugging when I was done with this book because of how much it made me feel seen.
I really liked how throughout this book Ellen is teaching others what it means to her to be Autistic and Isa is teaching others what it means for them to be non-binary. I liked how each of them breaks things down for each other, and how they both allow each other to have questions but are honest if the questions are too much.
Something else that I really enjoyed about this book is how Ellen is exploring who she is and how her teammates just allow for this exploration while Laurel seems to not be on board with these changes. I really loved how Ellen just freely said that she thought Meritzcell is cute without thinking what others would say but then we see how madison’s reaction changes how Ellen navigates these feelings.
There is so much that I could say about this book because of how much I really loved it and all the little pieces that make up this book. I liked that the book was about Ellen’s trip to Barcelona and we see how her being Autistic affects this trip but it isn’t completely centered on this part of who she is.
Characters: In this book, you get to meet several characters through their interactions with Ellen. You get to meet Ellen’s dad, her best friend, Laurel, and her teammates, Andy, Gibs, and Isa. You also get to briefly meet some of Laurel’s teammates and new friends, Madison and Sophie-Anne.
I really loved everyone on Ellen’s team and how they supported her throughout her time in Barcelona and how they just seemed to understand her. I was frustrated with Laurel throughout this book because it seemed that she didn’t really know Ellen or care about her since she had these new friends and Ellen didn’t really fit into that new life. I really enjoyed that Ellen’s teammates accepted her for who she is but still hold her accountable when she does something to hurt her teammates.
I really enjoyed Ellen’s relationship with her dad and how he is around but not really interfering in Ellen’s exploration of the city. I like that he treats her in the same manner that he treats the other students on the trip. I also really liked the conversations that they have about faith and how Ellen goes to her father to discuss what she did to potentially ruin her friendships.
Writing Style: This book is written in first person through the perspective of Ellen which I thought was great. I liked to see how she was experiencing this trip through her perspective rather than what others thought was happening. I thought it was great to know things based on what our main character actually thought was going on rather than have outside input.
A. J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship can impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2020 and ALA 2021 Rainbow Book List Top 10 for Young Readers selection, and Ellen Outside the Lines (Little, Brown, 2022), the co-author of Camp QUILTBAG* with Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 2023), as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us (Knopf) and Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again (DK US & UK) anthologies. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.