Ellen Out­side the Lines

  • Review
By – July 6, 2022

Thir­teen-year-old Ellen Katz hopes that dur­ing her Span­ish class’s sum­mer trip to Barcelona, Spain, she’ll be able to recon­nect with her best (and only) friend, Lau­rel. Although her sup­port­ive father is accom­pa­ny­ing the class as a chap­er­one, Ellen, who has autism, strug­gles when the trip’s itin­er­ary changes. Addi­tion­al­ly, Ellen and Lau­rel are assigned to dif­fer­ent groups for the class scav­enger hunt, requir­ing Ellen to get acquaint­ed with oth­er class­mates, includ­ing new stu­dent Isa, who is non­bi­na­ry and uses they/​them pro­nouns. As the stu­dents see the city’s sights, Ellen has poignant real­iza­tions that change the tra­jec­to­ry of her trip, her thoughts about the future, and the ways that she views the world.

Ellen Out­side the Lines fea­tures real­is­tic, fleshed-out char­ac­ters who are imper­fect and learn­ing how to nav­i­gate the world in their own ways. The book thought­ful­ly inte­grates con­cepts includ­ing pro­nouns and iden­ti­ties, deft­ly under­scor­ing the indi­vid­u­al­i­ty of the char­ac­ters, who pos­sess var­i­ous back­grounds and iden­ti­ties. Ellen’s nar­ra­tive also includes a nuanced explo­ration of her ideas about Judaism. Ellen and her fam­i­ly are obser­vant, and she and Abba even cel­e­brate Shab­bat with Ellen’s mom back home via video chat. But when Abba eats non-kosher food on the trip, Ellen is ini­tial­ly both­ered until Abba explains that, like most things in life, rela­tion­ships with faith and inter­pre­ta­tions are per­son­al and unique.

Read­ers will enjoy this heart­en­ing sto­ry fea­tur­ing a real­is­tic por­tray­al of a neu­ro­di­ver­gent mid­dle school­er and her journey.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

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