Book Review - What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski

It's only a matter of time before a middle school book becomes book of the year. I'm not saying What Happened to Rachel Riley? is that book. I'm also not not saying that either.

It's not often a book surprises you, but like Courtney Summers and Tiffany Jackson, Swinarski tells the story through multigenre. Diary entries, passed notes, hall passes, e-mails and podcasts are just some of the elements that make up this wild and delightful text.

Anna Hunt is an inquisitive eighth grade who moves into a new town. When she is assigned an un-essay (an essay where you can write about your essay in a multitude of forms as long as it's not a traditional essay), she explores the question that's been bothering her since she arrived to this town: What Happened to Rachel Riley?

Immediately you will be intrigued by both Anna Hunt and Rachel Riley. Rachel Riley is a social pariah. A name so toxic no one dears utter it. What's also clear is that Rachel Riley was an "it" girl. Usually, mysteries of this magnitude can't sustain themselves for more than a hundred pages. Somehow Swinarksi has you guessing from beginning to end. Even as the revelations become clearer, other questions start to percolate, giving this text momentum.

Between the changing formats and the shocking mystery, Swinarksi made a winning formula. And that would be enough, but I would go as far as to say, this is the most essential middle grade book written since... I actually can't name a book that feels more essential. Other middle grade books had something to say, be it New Kid or Prairie Lotus, this is a more essential than those.

What I appreciate more than anything is that the book isn't afraid to get messy. Anna Hunt opens up a world of trouble, and it's not just kids making bad decisions, but adults too. Who is willing to cover for whom? Who do you trust when even the people you thought you could trust don't help? While it all ends quite tidy, the readers can definitely fill in the blank that not everything goes back to normal after this. 

Sometimes the less said, the better. So let's just be clear: Read this book! Read it now! Buy it for you, your classroom, your child, and anyone else you meet. This is the first essential book of 2023. 

Release Date: January 10, 2023
MSRP: $17.00


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