Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Publishing Date: March 22, 2022
Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.
Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track. Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.
Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.
Tour Schedule for Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
About the Author:
A. J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship can impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2020 and ALA 2021 Rainbow Book List Top 10 for Young Readers selection, and Ellen Outside the Lines (Little, Brown, 2022), the co-author of Camp QUILTBAG* with Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 2023), as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us (Knopf) and Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again (DK US & UK) anthologies. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.
Understanding self-identity is beautifully incorporated into this astounding coming-of-age story.
Ellen Outside the Lines is a warm and wonderful story of an autistic teenager coming-of-age while on a summer school trip to Barcelona. The view inside Ellen’s thoughts and feelings had me enthralled from the first page as I witnessed how the world appeared to her. The support and understanding of her experiences by her closest classmates were astonishing to me, and I hope it is true-to-life because I didn’t expect that level of caring and compassion from schoolmates of that age. Of course, there were examples of those that weren’t so caring or compassionate. I ached for Ellen’s disappointments and missteps but cheered as she recognized where she went wrong or could have done better.
Besides her journey through her relationships with others, including her father, the story presented intriguing glimpses into her family’s life and religious observations of the Jewish faith. Her mother and her hobbies while husband and daughter were away provided fun little side surprises. I particularly liked the inclusion of the Hebrew language sprinkled throughout the dialogue between father and daughter.
The setting in Barcelona was exotic, vivid, and exciting. I loved the Spanish teacher’s device of the scavenger hunt to get his students out experiencing the city and expanding their vocabulary rather than just shopping and hanging out at the beach.
The characters are a wonderful yet cohesive mix of diverse individuals who were very relatable. I found the author’s use of language delightful and feel it will resonate exceptionally well with young readers.
I recommend ELLEN OUTSIDE THE LINES to middle-grade audiences and adults wanting a better understanding of what it means to be autistic or neurodivergent.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from TBR and Beyond Tours.