Sixth grade is not starting out as well as Riley Henderson would prefer. Her brother, Devin, has abandoned Riley to attend college on the other side of the country, and with their mother working long hours at her retail job, Riley is more alone than she has ever been. Forgetting what bus she rides is only the beginning of the challenges Riley faces, and she is counting down the days until Devin comes home for Christmas vacation and can continue their most recent game of Dungeons and Dragons. But time and loneliness have a way of bringing people together, and as Riley begins to make friends with others who enjoy the same games she does, she begins to trust herself in a way she never has before.
This beautiful story is a fantastic balance between true-life difficulties and the excitement of creating an immersive, fictional world. Riley’s life is far from perfect, and as a sixth-grader, she is being asked to manage her needs in an intense and all-inclusive way. Thanks to a series of happy circumstances, though, Riley ends up meeting three other girls who each have their own challenges, and their shared struggles help their friendship blossom. Dungeons and Dragons is a game into which each of the girls can escape, and as the campaigns continue, their real-life capabilities grow along with the stats of their characters.
Readers will appreciate the smooth flow of the story, especially as the believable dialogue brings all aspects of Riley’s life to the foreground. Riley narrates the book in the first person, giving readers a strong glimpse into her feelings as she matures from a young girl to a more self-sufficient teen. Occasional illustrations enhance the quality of the writing while also providing a visual respite, helping to make this an excellent selection for middle grade readers who can benefit from some additional support in the books they read. Filled with heartwarming interactions, quirky characters, moments of weakness, and celebrations of strength, this story is one that will resonate with readers of all ages. It is a necessary addition to library collections for younger middle grade readers.
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