Just like that

Gary D. Schmidt

Book - 2021

With insight and a light touch, best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning author Gary D. Schmidt tells two poignant, linked stories: that of a grieving girl and a boy trying to escape his violent past. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school's traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a ...parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene's with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang's relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

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Subjects
Genres
Bildungsromans
Fiction
Published
New York, New York : Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [2021]
Language
English
Physical Description
387 pages : 22 cm
ISBN
9780544084773
0544084772
Main Author
Gary D. Schmidt (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* It's the summer of 1968. The accidental death of a dear friend has blindsided Meryl Lee, and grief still overwhelms her at times. Unable to face her old school for eighth grade, she enrolls at St. Elene's Preparatory Academy in Maine, where she initially feels isolated from her pretentious roommate and other classmates. From the start, she's intrigued by the strong, enigmatic headmistress, Dr. MacKnockater, who seems to understand so much and whose opening address unexpectedly mesmerizes and challenges Meryl Lee. Slowly, she begins to find her way and tentatively makes friends while navigating boarding-school life under the watchful eyes of her inscrutable teachers. Meanwhile, Matt has arrived in the area. A good-hearted, vulnerable boy on the run from his sometimes-violent past, he's befriended by Dr. MacKnockater, who takes him in and gradually gains his trust. The Vietnam War isn't just the story's backdrop, but an inescapable, unsettling element of the times, painfully affecting several characters. The well-phrased writing is understated, endlessly engaging, and sometimes suspenseful or amusing. While fans of Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (2007) and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004) will find links to both stories here, this well-constructed novel, with its beautifully interwoven strands of narrative, stands on its own. An unforgettable story of loss, healing, and finding one's way. Grades 6-8. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In 1968, the summer before her eighth grade year, Meryl Lee Kowalski's best friend dies suddenly, and Meryl Lee becomes enveloped in grief and depression—which she calls "the Blank"—on Long Island. To give her a new start, her parents enroll her in a girls' prep school on the coast of Maine; the headmistress, Dr. MacKnockater, promises to help Meryl Lee become "accomplished." As the school year progresses and she fends off the encroaching Blank, Meryl Lee also faces classist teachers and snobby classmates while discovering a social conscience around the treatment of the school's kitchen staff. A secondary arc follows Matt Coffin, whom Dr. MacKnockater finds living in an oceanside shack and whose dark past is never far behind. The heaviness of Matt's story line at times eclipses Meryl Lee's, but episodes of slapstick humor, told in Schmidt's (Pay Attention, Carter Jones) trademark wry deadpan, are woven throughout (a disastrous formal luncheon hosting Vice-President Spiro Agnew is a standout). Though overlong and occasionally plodding, Schmidt's rich, humane tale rewards persistent readers with moments of hilarity and heartache in a skillfully rendered Vietnam War–era boarding school setting. Ages 10–up. (Jan.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 5–8—Schmidt's extended family of memorable characters loses one but gains a few more in this masterful companion to The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. It's summer 1968, immediately after the end of Wednesday Wars, and Meryl Lee Kowalski (described as having auburn hair and freckles) is reeling from the shocking accidental death of Holling Hoodhood, the boy she's loved since the third grade. Her parents send her to the prestigious St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls in Harpswell, ME, to help her come to terms with the loss. Also arriving in Harpswell is Matt Coffin, a homeless white 13-year-old whose harrowing past keeps him on the run, with the dream of safety and happiness always out of reach. Matt and Meryl Lee's lives intertwine with the help of Dr. Nora MacKnockater, headmistress of St. Elene's. With wisdom and dry humor, Dr. MacKnockater patiently helps both teens recognize their value and innate strength. The novel shares the same setting as Lizzie Bright—Maine's rugged seacoast—as well as several deftly placed supporting characters fans of Lizzie will appreciate. As Meryl Lee and Matt face grave adult issues, Schmidt contrasts the worst of humanity with the affirmation that love and hope can make the world a beautiful place. His language is honest and direct without trivializing the seriousness of a character's experience. Meryl Lee realizes "life doesn't stop even when horrible things happen." The novel closes with the tantalizing hint that the next family story may come from Matt's missing past. VERDICT Schmidt effortlessly weaves seemingly unrelated plot threads into a beautiful tapestry of heartbreak, courage, and humor. An essential purchase for all middle grade collections.—Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY Copyright 2020 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In this unforgettable, gently humorous novel, New York Times bestselling, award-winning author Gary D. Schmidt tells two poignant, linked stories: that of a grieving girl and a boy trying to escape his violent past.Meryl Lee Kowalski is sent to a girls' boarding school in fall 1968 to move on from her grief over a close friend's death. Matt Coffin is on the run from a criminal gang, afraid that anyone he cares about is at risk. When their paths cross, the pair’s connection begins to shape each of their lives. As their loneliness is gradually replaced by friendship, Meryl Lee finds unexpected allies and a sense of purpose, while Matt finds a new family and hope for the future.This riveting novel is Wednesday Wars author Gary D. Schmidt at his best, weaving in powerful themes and raising tears and laughter in equal measure."Set in 1968, Just Like That is part of an outstanding series that began with Newbery Honor recipient The Wednesday Wars and continued in Okay for Now, a finalist for the National Book Award. While each book can be read separately, overlapping characters and themes enrich each other in understated and often profound ways." (BookPage starred review)

Review by Publisher Summary 2

  With insight and a light touch, best-selling, Newbery Honor–winning author Gary D. Schmidt tells two poignant, linked stories: that of a grieving girl and a boy trying to escape his violent past.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school's traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene's with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang's relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.  

Review by Publisher Summary 4

  With insight and a light touch, best-selling, Newbery Honor'winning author Gary D. Schmidt tells two poignant, linked stories: that of a grieving girl and a boy trying to escape his violent past.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school's traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene's with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang's relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.