Review: Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

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☆➹⁀☆☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆


What it’s about:

Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

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Three Chinese girls, who were adopted from the same orphanage in China, are thrown together in summer camp by their parents and teachers. Two are good friends, accepting of their birth culture and their adopted family.

Julia, the narrator of the story, tells her tale through diary-style letters to her teacher and through narrative. Julia doesn’t feel connected to her heritage or her loud, fellow- Chinese adoptees, Becca and Avery. She refers to herself as half Italian, half Irish and half Chinese; she really wants to find a way to affiliate herself with the cultures of her adoptive parents. Becca and Avery embrace everything about their Chinese heritage; they show off chopstick skills while eating Cheetos, cool themselves with paper fans, and eat their snacks out of Chinese takeout containers. How will Julia survive the summer stuck in a cabin with Avery and Becca?

With each journal entry, Julia’s descriptions become less curmudgeon-like, and even though she claims she’s not bonding with her Chinese “sisters”, the evidence proves otherwise. If nothing else, there is safety in numbers when the three find they must share a cabin with Vanessa, a hyper-competitive camper, and her foster sister, Gina.

The girls struggle to accept one another and get along; the struggles are reminiscent of the movie The Parent Trap. The shared punishment leads to cooperation, but little things lead to another group blow up. While they lose the camp athletic competition, they win in the realization of how similar they are to each other. Instead of a trophy, they are awarded with new friends.

When left alone with her thoughts, Julia ponders her birth mother. Did she love me? Why did she give me up? Does she think about me? She’s so busy worrying about her own sad story to wonder if her cabin mates have struggles of their own. Ultimately, she learns that everyone has problems and that the other girls also make up little stories (pretend) to make their lives more palatable.

Cavanaugh, an adoptive mother, was inspired to write this story based on her experiences with her adopted child. Just Like Me explores the self-doubt felt by adopted and foster children as well as their wavering feelings about their heritage and their adopted culture.   This feel-good story of acceptance and friendship is good for all ages, and it will be most appreciated by elementary to middle school aged readers.

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About the author:  Nancy J. Cavanaugh spends her winters in Florida enjoying the Gulf Coast and her summers eating pizza in her former hometown of Chicago. She loves reading middle grade novels. Her secret? She hasn’t read an adult book in years.

Like her main character, Ratchet, Nancy is pretty handy with a ratchet and is able to take apart a small engine and put it back together.

Like her main character, Abigail, Nancy often struggled while growing up to find the courage to do the right thing. She also fell in a HUGE puddle, just like Abigail did.

Nancy has been an elementary and middle school teacher as well as a library media specialist. One of her favorite parts of writing for children is being able to say “I’m working” when reading middle grade novels.

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