Braced by Alyson Gerber
Genre: middle grade contemporary
Release date: March 28, 2017
The first contemporary novel about a disorder that bends the lives of ten percent of all teenagers: scoliosis.
Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.
Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.
Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.
Braced is a book that’s been on my watchlist since I saw the announcement it had been sold. It’s a middle grade book about a girl with scoliosis who has to wear a back brace, written by a woman who went through the same thing and so did the editor, and it’s apparently the only other middle grade about scoiolisis since Judy Blume’s Deenie (and technology has changed a lot since then). This surprised me, because like Rachel (the main character) and Gerber, scoliosis and my back brace were just a part of my middle school life–and it’s really not uncommon.
Everyone’s experience is different, and how Rachel wears her brace is specific to her, and the basics of the medical info is conveyed. Plus, her mother also has scoliosis and had a different experiences, which creates some conflict between the two as her mother is overprotective and strict about the brace as a way of projecting her own fears about spinal fusion surgery which she underwent. Rachel and her mother represent different degrees (pun not intended) of scoliosis: some, like the mother, do progress beyond the brace into surgery, while others just wear the brace until they’re done growing. In other words, I appreciate the medical details and the fact that this wasn’t trying to be The Scoliosis Book featuring A Universal Experience.
Rachel and I are quite different; not only is she a student athlete (playing soccer with the brace is one of her big challenges) and I didn’t have to wear my brace quite as much as she did, but I didn’t experience the social struggles regarding the brace. So it was good to read a different perspective, from someone who was an athlete and stuck out a little to her teammates, not to mention that she has to play in her brace–which she confronts with admirable, determined practice. I also wasn’t as socially aware as her–I didn’t care about clothes at the time. I wore a lot of hoodies and sweatpants that were shapeless enough to hide the brace’s boxiness. It wasn’t until I was no longer encased in plastic (and we were required to wear polos to school) that I realized my clothes were too big and ill-fitting to fit in with all the fashionable girls’ Aeropostale polo shirts. But all the descriptions of Rachel in and out of her brace took me right back–I could feel it around me, what it was like having “fake hips,” how it felt to be strapped in.
But aside from all this, Braced is just a really good middle grade book. Rachel’s dealing with not only wearing her brace and playing soccer, but also the many shifting relationships in her life. I previously talked about her mother, and likewise she also wishes her father (a doctor) was involved more with her life but struggles to communicate that. Her close friends and her have some rocky moments. She has a budding relationship with a boy, Tate, and the two confide in each other privately, but she’s frustrated about Tate’s public behavior around her, especially because he’s friends with a pretty mean guy…who starts dating one of Rachel’s best friends…oh, middle school. And it all boils down to the importance of communication and shows how complex people and relationships can be. This sophisticated characterization (as well as the page count and print size) makes me want to pinpoint this as an upper middle grade book, great for middle school and even early high school with YA crossover appeal. (“Middle grade” is quite a large category, including books targeted to late elementary school.) This is great because from my observation, that in-between tween range sometimes gets less attention, especially in genres that aren’t fantasy or sci-fi series.