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Ellen Outside the Lines: 10/25/22
Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass (2022) is middle grade fiction about the way a class trip can change a person. Ellen Katz is thirteen, autistic and anxious. She's also Jewish and Southern with an Israeli mother. She's also a lesbian with a bi father. Basically it means a lot of ways to struggle to fit in and a lot of ways to be overwhelmed. She'll be put to the test during the ten day class trip to Barcelona especially once she learns that her Spanish teacher has changed how the trip will work!
Before I begin, I have to mention how close to home Ellen hit. She's so much like my daughter save for a couple details. I kept having to stop to read passages to my daughter. She's also like my oldest daughter who in fact went on a ten day Spanish class trip that included an extended stop in Barcelona.
Ellen we learn has been been planning for this trip for at least a year. She has a bullet journal full of the previous itinerary. She has noise cancelling headphones. Her father has come along as a chaperone in case she needs help advocating for herself. She and her long time best friend have managed to get a room together. So how will she be challenged beyond the expected jet lag, foreign language, and crowded city (which by themselves are already a lot!)?
It's a biggie: a scavenger hunt with teacher selected teams. Team work at home never goes well. It goes worse for neural diverse people. Turning a school trip into group work is a thousand times worse and frankly has me as an outside reader scratching my head!
Worse yet for Ellen, she's not on the same team as her roommate and best friend. I would think just to keep the tension lower and to prevent cheating or bullying, the teacher would at least assign teams based on rooms, rather than individuals in said rooms.
The one thing that Ellen "lucks" out on (although it's implied these teams weren't all that random to begin with) is that she's put on the oddball team. She's there with a nonbinary student, a boy with ADHD, and a gay boy. Though they weren't friends before being put together, they become friends over the course of the trip.
To get Ellen "outside the lines" this novel takes a ton of liberties with how school trips work. Readers who expect contemporary fiction to be as realistic as possible might find this novel annoying. Readers who are willing to let the novel take liberties to create situations that test the characters will find this book an engaging page turner.