May 25, 2021
Algonquin Young Readers
Blurb: For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
There are times as a reviewer that I try to guess what a writer’s intention was in their creation process. Considering how intense and unyielding I frequently found How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby to be, I wondered if the author was trying to replicate just how unyielding depression is. That it’s all-encompassing and unrelenting, shadowing everything a person does and thinks. And, how especially hard this must be as a tween, when you already feel self-conscious and now stick out even more over some body imbalance over which you have no control.
Pluto has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety in her twelfth year. What this immediately has meant is that she’s not been able to attend school, lost her best friend, lost her door after a bad episode, and now finds herself pulled between her father who has money and lives in NY City and can offer more to getting her healthy and her mother, who pretty much only has love to give–not that should ever be considered second-rate.
After this past year in which many of us discovered depression to varying degrees, I could empathize somewhat with Pluto the thirteen year-old girl at the center of this story. Her fits of anger were very difficult for me to read, even though I know that can be a symptom of depression in teens. But I also felt for her mother, who, in her early 30s, is trying to navigate a landscape filled with landmines pretty much on her own, although she is constantly reaching out for help for Pluto, not to mention that she’s also trying to run a business.
While I can’t say that I liked or loved this novel, I did appreciate the structure in which person Pluto identifies with now-non-planet Pluto, her fascinations with the doomed Challenger mission and Christa Mcauliffe. I very much appreciated all of the links to black holes and other space-technology related information as it applies to Pluto’s life and understanding. I also liked the very real depictions of relationships between Pluto and her once very best friend Meredith.
I do think this is an important novel for understanding depression in teenagers, but I also think it’s trying to deal with a multiplicity when singularity would be more than enough. While I feel that there is a lot to recommend this novel, I feel that there is also a caveat of reading under guidance. For teens suffering from depression and their peers trying to understand why their best friends are pulling away, this novel could mean everything for its very realistic depiction. For others, it might be a tough but illuminating reading.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.