Book Review: We Have Something to Say!
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
An inspiring and heartfelt novel about a young girl’s fight against the climate crisis, We Have Something to Say will encourage you to not only speak up but to speak out.
Jenny Barajas has always kept quiet because she worries that she isn’t as smart as the other kids in her class. When her new middle school science teacher Ms. Morgan teaches about the climate crisis through an approach that promotes trial regardless of error, Jenny learns that her voice might be the exact thing her school and her community needed. We Have Something to Say! is a poignant story about climate justice and how a single, seemingly insignificant voice can be just what a community needs to activate.
“‘We think if it is too easy it cannot be right. Not everything is out of our reach. Use what you know, what you have heard, and try it out.’”
Jenny Barajas’ day-to-day looks like many other middle schoolers: She plays and eats candy with her best friend; she bickers with her uppity, politically involved older sister; and she has an ex-best friend who seems out to get her. Although she acts like other middle schoolers, she feels different and out of place. She is often riddled with an anxiety that is familiar to both kids and adults alike. She worries that whatever she says won’t sound as smart as what her classmates have to say. She worries that people like her ex-best friend Celia will make fun of her for having the wrong answer.
“Why was it when I open my mouth, it came out wrong? Anyone else could say something and the others would agree, or at least left them alone. I am tired of this role I have to play. I finally decided that I had something to say.”
Jenny begins to build confidence in science class where her new teacher Ms. Morgan brings both teachings about the climate crisis and an eccentric teaching style that is full of evidence journaling and “of courses.” As Jenny learns about how the overconsumption and waste of plastic can harm wildlife, nature, and people, she develops a new outlook on life and even begins to rebuild relationships with both her older sister and classroom nemesis. Throughout the book, Jenny seeks to spread the word about the climate crisis by engaging her class and community in activities such as art exhibitions, documentaries, and fundraisers that center environmental justice.
“‘Well, you have been caught up in what is going on in here,’ said [Jenny’s] Dad, placing his index finger on [Jenny’s] head. ‘Sometimes we can sit at the same table and not hear what anyone is saying when we are lost in thought.’”
The book is informative, providing occasional resources for learning more about the climate crisis. Although the book is about one girl’s attempt to spread awareness about climate change and encourage action among her peers and lawmakers, the story is ultimately about community and connection. In addition to the global concerns of the environment, it also engages with anxiety in a personal and heartfelt way. She begins the story worried that people will laugh at her for having bad ideas. But as the novel progresses and Jenny makes her voice heard, her anxiety morphs into an imposter syndrome where she feels that though she has good ideas, she is not a significant enough person for anyone to listen to. The narrative’s strength comes from the fact that Jenny does not necessarily save herself from her own anxiety, but it is her friends and family who encourage her and help her gain confidence.
“I knew what Jackie meant. It was easy to give the soft truths. The truths that made people feel comfortable. ‘We are just kids, Jackie.’
“‘You and I have to live with the consequences of inaction,’ Jackie said.”
There are a couple very rare moments in the story where the discussion of the climate crisis feels a bit heavyhanded. In these moments, the characters speak with terms and tones that feels a bit out of character. These moments are few and far between and hardly detract from the phenomenal story or the carefully and lovingly crafted characters and their relationships.
This quickly became a comfort novel for me. The story is wholesome without minimizing the seriousness of the climate crisis and its characters genuinely care about each other and the world they inhabit.
I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages and especially those who are anxious to speak up but have something important to say.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction / Contemporary
Print Length: 322 pages
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