Jillian is a smart, talented 5th grader. She’s got loving, supportive parents, a teacher who really cares, some good friends, and an artistic talent for weaving beautiful cloth.
But scratch the surface and you’ll find a miserable little girl. She worries about her mom having another lupus flare up, she’s mourning the grandmother she lost not quite a year ago, and she’s shy. The cliché description would be ‘painfully shy’, but in Jillian’s case, it’s really true.
Her shyness is keeping her from excelling in class. She also adopts her classmate’s trend of ‘twinning’, dressing alike in standardized outfits and hairstyles for each day of the week. She hates the look (especially on beige day, beige makes her want to throw up!) but the fad helps her disappear into the crowd.
She’s certainly not living her best life. I empathized with Jillian right away, having been a smart and shy girl in school myself. I wish I’d met Jillian back then. I could have learned so much from this little girl who wanted to keep the vow she made to her grandmother and come out of her shell. She doesn’t like being shy – but she doesn’t know how to fix it.
Finally, she decides she’s going to take part in something that can’t be won by a quiet, invisible girl. She agrees to compete in the school’s annual competition, the “Mind Bender”. She knows that she’s got all the answers to win it – but getting those answers to come out of her throat is a nearly impossible task.
A side story beautifully parallels Jillian’s struggles. Twelve eggs in an incubator are the featured science project in her classroom this year. I looked forward to the updates on the chicks progress, and I’ll even admit that this old lady learned a lot about developing chicks!
As Jillian struggles to emerge from her own shell, she learns little lessons from the chicks, as well as from her friends, parents and teachers. Even her grandmother has a hand in her emergence, having taught her how to express her artistic talent through weaving.
I admired how well-woven (see what I did there?) the story was. Jillian and the chicks struggled side-by-side to grow and break free of their constraints. I appreciated that this wasn’t a cliché battle against the popular crowd at school. There are characters that you won’t like at first – but as time goes on, you ‘ll be surprised by your own change in attitude towards them.
Gift this book to any struggling, shy young woman you know. Heck, gift it to the shy young guys, too. I highly recommend Just Right Julian and hope it finds its way into many classrooms. The absolutely charming book cover should tempt middle graders to pick up the book and start reading.
My thanks to author Nicole D. Collier, Clarion Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.