Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj, 171 pages. Nancy Paulsen (Penguin), 2019. $17
BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL
AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH
Karina, Indian, and Chris, white, are neighbors and 7th graders at the same middle school. Other than seeing each other in class and riding the same school bus and they have no desire to be friends. It isn't until Papa, Karina's grandfather, come to live with them and Papa strikes up a friendship with Chris that the 7th graders begin to bond. One day, outside the school, Papa, Karina and Chris are walking to the car when they are attacked by a man with a knife. Papa is knocked to the ground and violently kicked. Their lives change and the way they see themselves and their world changes.
I loved the book and I could not put it down. The story is well written, heartwarming and heart wrenching. It is written with deep feelings and a touch of humor. Varsha Bajaj has written two seventh grade students so well. I liked how well she describes being an immigrant, working for the "American Dream," making your dreams come true and being the victim of hate crime. It also shows how good people come together and bond together and help each other overcome the hate. I salute Karina, Chris and Papa for standing up for what is good and right in their community and in the world. There are a lot of good surprises in this book and I highly recommend reading it. This would also be a good read-aloud book because it has so many good discussion points in it - so many things to talk about.