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The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

Saturday, August 25, 2012
 Synopsis: A is for "Tink Aaron-Martin," "Aardvark," and "Amazing" in this wonderful alphabetical novel!
Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from "Aa" (a kind of lava--okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to "Zoo" (she's never been to one, but her brothers belong there).
As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink's summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about "Living with Autism," thanks to her older brother Seb—and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under "H" for "Hideous," or "I" for "Invisible," but "O" for "Okay."
Written entirely in Tink's hilarious encyclopedia entries, The Encyclopedia of Me is both a witty trick and a reading treat for anyone who loves terrific middle-grade novels.
Review: An encyclopedia is a collection of facts. A novel is a story. The whole idea behind Karen Rivers’ The Encyclopedia of Me is to write a novel in the style of an encyclopedia. But a story is more than just a collection of facts. So, naturally, it is quite challenging to constrict a story to the structure of an encyclopedia. Rivers makes a good attempt, but she does not quite succeed.
As I was reading, I found myself dividing the various encyclopedia entries into two categories: boring statements of facts and entries that are actually stories. I was gripped to the page throughout the story-entries, but the fact-entries pulled me right out of the novel. It was everything I could do to keep from skipping them and moving on to more story-entries.
Even though I did not like the structure of this novel, I did enjoy aspects of the plot and some of the characters. I found it very easy to like Tink. She is smart, funny, and caring. She is just as much a daughter and sister as she is a friend.
Thankfully, I have been away from the drama of teenage girl friendships for a while now, but that does not mean that I could not relate to the friend issues that Tink experiences in the novel. I am sure many of us have had a best friend leave us for the idea of popularity. I really liked how Tink handled her problems with Freddie Blue. The introduction of new characters, such as Kai and Ruth, added complexity to the friendship issues. Overall, Tink’s friendships were believable. Just like Rivers did with Tink, she captured the emotions of young teenagers trying to discover who they are in her depictions of Tink’s friends.
Seb, Tink’s autistic brother, added a level of depth to the novel. Rivers did an excellent job of incorporating a serious issue in the story without writing an issue-driven novel. I liked that she was able to create sympathy for Seb and Seb’s family. It is pretty easy to sympathize with someone who has Autism, but I liked seeing that having a brother or a son with Autism is difficult, too.  
Also, congratulations to Karen Rivers, a white author, for writing from the perspective of a black character and not making the novel deal with Racism with a capital R. The whiteifying of children’s literature is a huge topic these days. I’ve read countless articles trying to explain it by saying that white authors are afraid that they are not qualified to write from the perspective of other races. I have never liked that excuse. In The Encyclopedia of Me, Karen Rivers proves exactly what I had been thinking: No matter what race we are, we are all just people.


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