Kate Messner’s new middle grade novel, Chirp, is kind of the #MeToo movement in book form. Mia is moving back to Vermont after a stint in Boston that resulted in her breaking her arm and giving up gymnastics for good. As the story begins, Mia is afraid of just about everything; she’d prefer to spend all of her time sitting on the couch watching reality TV, but her mom makes her sign up for two camps “one for the brain and one for the body.” During Launch Camp (an entrepreneurial camp) and Warrior Camp (think American Ninja Warrior), Mia begins to make new friends, and find the courage she needs to speak up. Will that be enough for her to tell the truth about what happened to her?
All of this typical middle grade growth is also jammed in with a mystery. Mia’s grandma has opened up a cricket farm, and someone is trying to sabotage her. Can Mia and her new friends figure out who is behind these devastating attacks to the crickets and save the farm from certain failure? This was my favorite part of this book. I loved learning about how a cricket farm works, and all the different ways that crickets can become food (for humans!). It was a lot of fun experiencing all the twists along with the characters, and celebrating when the culprit is caught.
What I struggled with in this novel was the way the #metoo topics were handled. Every female character in this book has a story of being sexually harassed. While, that in itself is not at all unrealistic, the way these stories are revealed felt very forced. It almost felt like each occurrence was scripted: the topic of what its like to be a women comes up, a female character reveals her story of being sexually harassed, Mia thinks “I didn’t realize this happened to other people.” Every. Single. Time. This is such an important topic, and I am so excited to see a middle grade book addressing it, I just wish it had been done a little more smoothly.
Overall, this is a delightful story of growing up, finding your passions, and finding your voice. I would be happy to put this in the hands of any of my 3rd – 6th grade patrons, especially ones who can’t get enough contemporary fiction. Chirp is a familiar story, but surrounded by unique people, places, and adventures.