For middle grade readers of realistic fiction, Stella Diaz is a wonderful character. She is smart, but shy. She worries over speaking in front of others because her words come out wrong sometimes, even though she has been in speech class for three years. Part of her confusion comes from the different sounds that letters make in Spanish and in English; even though her family moved to Chicago from Mexico City when she was very young, those sounds are still giving her trouble in the third grade. Another problem is that her best friend Jenny is in another homeroom this year, so she doesn't have that support and isn't sure how to make new friends. Of course, there is always someone unkind at school and that happens to be Jessica, who teases Stella and says she is weird or stupid.
Slowly, as the year goes by, Stella makes other friends to sit with at lunch, and even overcomes her shyness enough to talk to the new boy in class without turning bright red. Along the way we get to see her wonderful home life with a loving big brother and mom, her talent as an artist and a writer, and her attempts to speak up for herself. The final project of the year with its 5-minute presentation in front of the class offers the chance to show off her newfound confidence and let everyone hear what she has to say.
This book has many components that make it a great choice for middle grade readers. The topics of immigration, single-parent homes, teasing, and friendship are all blended into the story in a realistic and organic way. Stella is shown as a character with both strengths and weaknesses, and we can see her work to overcome her shyness and fear of public speaking while sharing her talents as an artist and writer with her family and friends. The depiction of a bilingual household is not exaggerated for comic effect, but shows a family with its own unique background and how that cultural heritage comes through in their daily lives.
Altogether a satisfying book that would work well as an independent read or as a read-aloud. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.