Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass Book Tour Post

Book Description

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.

Book Links

Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Indigo ~ Indiebound


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.

Author Information

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.

Author Links

Website ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads ~ Facebook

Real by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard Book Review

Author Information

Carol Cujec is an educator and author. Her latest book, written with Peyton Goddard, is a middle-grade novel, called Real, which invites young readers into the world of a girl with nonspeaking autism. Peyton wants kids to understand autism not as a disability so much as a different way of experiencing the world. Real is a groundbreaking story that celebrates the magic that happens when we value and include all people.

Carol lives with her family in southern California and enjoys yoga, cooking, playing guitar with her daughter and, of course, hiding out with a good book

Peyton and Two Mints

Peyton Goddard was born to Patrick and Dianne Goddard on December 26, 1974, in San Diego, California. She was the second of two children. From the age of three, Peyton was deemed unfit to attend classes with “normal” kids because of her inability to speak or control her physical movements or bodily functions.

For two decades, she was segregated in schools with no appropriate accommodations for her learning, which only exacerbated her movement challenges and led to increasingly restrictive placements and social exclusion. During her years in the special education system, she experienced the unrelenting traumatic stress of daily being unable to obey the commands of her instructors, who viewed her as purposely “non-compliant.” She was the victim of aversive restraints, punitive seclusion, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Unable to tell her parents of this abuse, she could express herself only through self-destructive behaviors.

However, on March 21 of 1997, Peyton’s life changed dramatically when she was introduced to an innovative communication strategy called Facilitated Communication (FC), which uses applied resistance to enable intentional movement and communication through a keyboard or computer. Among her first words, Peyton typed, “i am intlgent.” For the first time, she had a reliable method for communicating with others and has since been supported by numerous trained facilitators. Peyton was finally able to request a real education and within a year found the courage to begin telling her parents about her experiences of abuse and neglect during her youth.

Peyton enrolled in Cuyamaca College in the fall of 1998. Four years later, she graduated as the valedictorian with a nearly 4.0 GPA and an Associate’s degree in General Studies, becoming the first person using supported typing to graduate valedictorian from a U.S. college.

Since then, Peyton has become an advocate for inclusion in education and society. Her wisdom is sought after by educators, doctors, parents and community groups nationwide, who have invited her to deliver more than 75 presentations at conferences and universities on the subject of esteeming all people. In 1995, she was awarded the Collaborative Advocacy Award from TASH, an international organization promoting inclusion and supported participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. In 2003, Peyton was awarded CALTASH’s annual Mary Falvey Outstanding Young Person Award.

Peyton writes passionately about her experiences and offers a rare perspective of autism by someone labeled as “low functioning.” In l993, even before she learned to communicate using a keyboard, she made a vow to herself (she calls it her I.O.U.) that the rest of her life would be devoted to “quietly changing this worrisome world.” She knows that children are dying in institutions and at the hands of parents who have lost sight of their child’s value. Her story has been featured in numerous publications such as the San Diego Union-Tribune and she recently co-authored the foreword of a book for K-12 educators entitled Collaborating With Students in Instruction and Decision Making (Corwin Press, 2010). Peyton has completed her book, co-authored with her mother Dianne and Carol Cujec, entitled i am intelligent: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from Heartbreak to Healing. Peyton considers i am intelligent, along with her continued advocacy, the fulfillment of her I.O.U.

Book Description

My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old. Actually, thirteen years plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.

Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?

When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.

Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.

You Can Find This Book At:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ IndieBound ~ Book Depository


Thank you to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: This is a review that I really wanted to sit on and not write immediately because I have mixed feelings about this book. I also didn’t want to much time to pass that I forgot my thoughts about the book or that my feelings would simmer down way too much.

First and foremost I did actually enjoy this book and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what would happen to Charity and also how the story would develop. I think this is a great middle grade story for disabled children to relate to, and for educators to read and gain a different perspective. I love that this story is an own voices story so that adds a lot of value to the narrative.

There are discussions that do need to take place around this book as you read and when you are done with it though. I do think that this is one of those that you can’t just read and put aside and not think about what you just read. There were several themes that I got from this book that so far I haven’t seen in other reviews so I am unsure if I read the book wrong. I also have yet to read a review from another autistic reader so that could be the reason the book wasn’t criticized

For me, one of the things that I kept settling on was the idea that this book perpetuates that as long as a disabled child could learn then they are valuable to society. Autism occurs on a spectrum and this book kind of made it seem like depending on where you are on the spectrum dictates what you deserve from society. I was really frustrated with the plot focusing on how everyone thought Charity was dumb but actually she’s the smartest person at that school. It felt like oh because of this now she’s valuable and we can take on other disabled kids if they are like Charity. It really is hard to put my thoughts surrounding this into words and I would love to flesh this out with other Autistic people to see what they took away from the book.

Something else that didn’t sit right with me was how easily the people who abuse Charity were left off the hook by others and also by Charity. I really didn’t like how they made it seem like Charity has to be full of grace and forgiveness for others because “oh they just don’t know any better.” I really would’ve liked to see her actually express the original thoughts she had towards people who were abusive and ableist towards her.

There are some scenes in this book that really feel like inspiration porn, such as the scene at the end of the story as well as the scene where they bring up Jaz as part of the court. These scenes felt like they were tokenizing the disabled students as well as saying “if they can do it so can you.” It was just so frustrating to see this happen and not have anyone comment on it. In the start of the story, Charity would comment about the ableist things that others were doing but that stopped happening once she was able to express herself through her keyboard.

Characters: This is the easy part of this review to write because there are so many characters in this book that are loveable. There are also plenty of characters in this story who I just didn’t like and still didn’t like at the end. I really love the group of friends that Charity has at her school and love how different they all are from each other. I liked that we get to see different disabilities through each of these characters. I also liked how we got to see Charity interact with neurotypical people as well in school and at home.

I really loved Charity’s parents and how her mother always adovated for her until she was able to speak for herself. I liked that they did have Charity’s mom take a step back once Charity could speak and she only helped her express herlsef rather than speak for her. I also loved how her dad was supportive of everything she wanted to do and just wanted to help her do all she could.

There are several characters who are ableist towards Charity and they change once she is able to speak. My opinion of these characters did not change even after they were accepting of Charity because it showed that she wasn’t important to them until she could contribute like they did. It showed that disabled peoples weren’t going to be allowed to participate in society or be accepted unless they were able to contribute in the same way that those without intellectual disabilities can.

Writing Style: This story is written in first person and is told through the main character’s perspective. I really enjoyed this style of writing because we got to see what Charity was thinking before she was able to speak. I liked that we were able to also see her thoughts that were not said out loud. I also really liked that her actions were included as well as the random animal facts that were going through her head. It was interesting to see her thought process throughout the whole story.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them Book Review

Summary: Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

Thoughts and Themes: I listened to this book on audio as I followed along with it through the physical book. I have found this is a better way for me to read and be able to keep up with everything.

I love that you get a scene that is packed with emotions right from the start of the book. I thought that Audre’s feelings as she is taken from Neri and forced to move to the U.S. were raw and real. I think that each scene that is included in this book that is meant to be emotional is realistic and you feel the characters emotions along with them. There is never a moment in which I question how Audre or Mabel are feeling as the author is transparent with the reader regarding their feelings.

I think it was impactful that this book included the complexity of having a relationship with God and being queer. It wasn’t until I started picking up queer books written by people of color that I started seeing the intersection of religion and queerness come into play. I always felt that it was a large piece that was missing in things that I read and I felt that queer people couldn’t have a relationship with God. I always felt that we had to choose one or the other so seeing characters who manage to hold both a religious identity and a queer identity really speaks to me and helps me re-examine my relationship with religion.

Something else that this book touches upon is health and what it means for a high school student to have poor health. I also thought that it was important to include that the doctors didn’t have a definitive answer to what was happening to Mabel. I thought that was a good way to show the disparity in the medical community when it comes to treating Black patients and how often times they are overlooked. I thought that the questioning of this illness and Audre’s thoughts on medicine are included and her distrust of the medical system in the U.S. I thought this was another good way to show the reasoning behind why Black people and other people of color have this distrust of the medical system and where it stems from.

Something else that I thought it was important to see was the way Mabel’s poor health affects those around her and see her perspective on this illness that is killing her. I thought it was important that Mabel asks for her space as she comes to terms with her illness and that her friends respect her boundaries in this time.

I like how you get an idea of what Trinidad is like and how you get a comparison of that country and the United States. I like how you also get commentary about how the schooling is very different. I also really enjoyed the conversation that Audre has with her friends about queer people back in Trinidad and how different it is to be queer back at her home and the U.S.

Characters: At the start of the book you get slowly introduced to Audre and the people who are important to her. I like how you see the relationships that she has with other people around her. I love that they show her close relationship with her grandmother, Queenie, and how accepting her grandmother is of her relationship with her girlfriend.

You also begin to get an idea of who Mabel is right from the start as well. I love that they include her questioning her sexuality through her relationship with a previous boyfriend. As you meet Mabel, her friends, and family you begin to understand her more and see why her thought process is the way it is.

Writing Style and Narrator: This book goes back and forth between Audre and Mabel’s perspectives. What I enjoy about this back and forth between the two characters is that it isn’t one chapter for Audre and then one for Mabel. It reads more as one moment for Audre and then one for Mabel, and sometimes those moments span over one chapter and sometimes it takes more.

Something else that I found interesting was that this book includes pieces of poetry from each of the different zodiac signs as it transitions between different portions of the book. I really enjoy all of the astrology references that are included through each of the characters.

I also liked how over halfway through the book as Mabel begins reading Afua’s book, the author included pieces of that book. I also enjoy how there’s parts of other books or poetry included as Audre does assignments in school.

You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.

Panorama by Ross Victory Book Review

Goodreads Summary: After enduring a severe panic attack which left the author attached to breathing machines around foreign doctors in South Korea, Panorama–the bonus chapter for the memoir, Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son, expands on the author’s experiences working and living abroad in Seoul, South Korea.

After a friendship ignites and morphs into an awe-struck, curious tale of parallel souls with a Brazilian-American soldier serving in the military at the North Korean border protecting South Korea from Kim Jong-il, Panorama reflects on the author’s contemplations to return to a crumbling family life in Los Angeles or to endure his life in Seoul for an end-of-contract cash payout.

In Panorama, the author broadens his stance on the importance of moments spotlighting loneliness and exposing the perks and ailments of escapism. With precise prose and a thought-provoking connected storyline that covers eating living octopus, philosophical debates about the gender of God, and a surprise pregnancy, Panorama, stands tall as a connected yet separate, compelling story. The author reminds us again, that as daunting as the vicissitudes of life, and no matter the view from the cockpit of life, the human spirit cannot be restrained in loss, or love, and strives to be unbroken–and free

Thoughts: Thank you to the author for a copy of the book in exchange for my review.

I think its always great to read memoirs written by people you know and not just famous people you admire. I love how you get to know the person on a deeper level and learn intimate parts of their lives. This was a book that I couldn’t put down once I started reading it.

You know how writing can be a form of therapy for people, this book feels like thats exactly what it was for the author. That was something that I really liked about this book as you can see as the author processes each scene and different events of his life. I like that you can feel a sense of relief at the close of each chapter and there’s a transition to a new event or moment in his life.

Something else I really enjoy about this book is how each chapter gives me a different scene. Each chapter slowly brings me through Ross’s time in Korea as if you are watching this play out in real time. I love the banter between the people who are in the story and the humor that is included throughout the book.

I love the love story that it opens with where its as if nothing can go wrong. I really enjoyed reading the relationship that Ross has with Alvi and seeing how that develops and changes. I love the vulnerability that you get from both of these men in the text messages that they exchange with each other.

I feel that society has not allowed Black men to show a range of emotions much less fear and sadness. Even more so feelings that they have towards each other that are complex and have so much history to their actions towards each other. Because of this I found that the scenes in which these two Black men are real and vulnerable with each other are powerful.

I think it was interesting to read the perspective of someone who is Black, bisexual male. I thought it was interesting to read what Ross’s thought about his sexuality were when he first realized he was bisexual and how he felt being in the middle.

Something that i found unique about this book was the explanation of the author’s views at the end. This book transitions from being a snipit of the author’s life into a series of essays on gender, sexuality, race and the intersections between them. If you aren’t interested in those portions though you can skip them and still get a good experience from the book.

I thought that was a great and interesting way to close as it leaves you thinking about sexuality and the intersection of sexuality, gender and race. While I did like the way that it closed I do think that it is something that you have to sit with and maybe read more than once to really understand what he is saying.

As I read the end I thought about how when I identified as female and came out as bisexual at 13 it was fine not just for me but also for others who I came out to. Then when I came to the realization that I’m a trans boy and non binary, I felt that the label was no longer okay for me. I shuffled through trying to find other terms or shift my sexuality somehow because I knew a bisexual boy was not something society was okay with. It wasn’t until this year when I really decided that I’m bisexual and was okay with that label again.

You can get this book on Amazon starting June 21st, you can also get his first book Views from the Cockpit: The Journey of a Son from Eso Won Books.

Slay by Brittney Morris Book Review

Thank You to Riveted by Simon Teen for the advanced copy of the book at Yallwest.

Summary: Kiera creates a world that she feels she can be herself in and embrace what being black means for her. The only downside is that none of her IRL friends know about this online persona she has created for herself and this game she’s made for black people. She thinks she can keep both worlds separate until a boy gets murdered for something from this game called SLAY. What happens next? Will she be able to keep her two worlds separate? What happens when the two worlds collide?

Thoughts: I loved this book the minute I opened it and was so sad every time I had to put it down, I was even sadder when it ended. I’ve been very intentional about what I read lately and want to make sure I get to read books by POC for POC and that is what this book is. This book covers so many important topics and I cant even begin to talk about them all here.

I kept thinking about how I wanted to write this review and how to express my feelings because I don’t want to overstep. I also kept thinking about how much I wanted to write I elaborate review but then I thought that wouldn’t be authentic. I couldn’t talk about this book in an academic voice and make my review inaccessible to others.

So after that spiel here goes my attempt at giving this book the review it deserves. This book is something that I was able to relate to on different levels but not all levels and that’s okay. I think that was the point of this book, for black people to be seen and validated first and foremost and also for others to learn that not everything has to be about them. You can love a book, relate to characters, and to the plot and have it not be about you. I struggled with whether I wanted to put that in this review or leave it out but it is so important here and it’s a part of my feelings towards this book.

I loved each and every one of these characters, even the ones we get a chapter for. They were all well developed and had complex relationships with each other and the world around them. I loved that there was a non-binary character because when I enjoy any type of media all I see are white non-binary people and I always think but what about POC, do we not exist outside of my friend groups? This book just reminds me of why representation matters and the importance of spreading books like this around to others.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you read it. I can talk about this book forever so please talk to me about it.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble or at your local library. If your library doesn’t have it please recommend that they get it.