Ellen Hopkins is back with her second middle grade novel, and I’m both so glad she’s getting into the middle grade world with her heavy topics and deft verse, but I’m also so sad, I’ve realized, about how needed her books are for middle grade readers. In What About Will? Hopkins introduces two brothers–Trace, straight A student, Little League baseball player–and his brother, Will, who hasn’t been the same since his traumatic brain injury and is acting in more and more concerning ways.
Trace’s least favorite refrain these days is “What about Will?” A family vacation? What about Will? Staying home alone? What about Will? Sports and activities–what about Will? Ever since Will was injured in a football incident, he hasn’t been the same. He’s got headaches, he’s angrier, his face is…not the same. And neither are his actions. He’s erratic, secretive, and Trace starts to notice some really concerning things. But when he tries to address these issues with his Dad-who is always working, and dating a new woman–or his Mom, who’s a traveling musician who never calls–he gets brushed off. Will’s just being a teenager. But Trace knows that something’s really wrong–luckily, he’s got a good friend, Bram, and a new friend, Cat, and a neighbor who help him figure out how to navigate this situation. But things get really bad for Will, and Trace and his family all learn they need to be speaking up when they see something wrong, not just letting it slide out of love.
I really enjoy Ellen Hopkins’ books, and they’ve probably been a stronger drug-deterrent in my life than any after school special. I love the care she takes with her characters, the way she weaves complex families, and I’m so glad to see more middle grade from here–both because of the importance of the theme and the style! This is in Hopkins’ typical verse format.
To give a bit of a spoiler, this book does talk about opioid addiction without really naming it until the end, and I thought that was well done, because of course Trace, at 12, wouldn’t know what an opioid is, or what addiction looks like. He would just see his brother addicting different. I think it handled it well, didn’t end in total tragedy and destruction of a family, and maybe can help young readers understand addiction and identify the warning signs in those around them, which is unfortunately an increasingly pressing concern.
A 4 star read for me!
What About Will? by Ellen Hopkins is on sale everywhere September 14, 2021