C.C. Payne has captured exactly what it feels like to be a middle school kid trying to cope with the rearrangement that life goes through after a divorce. Her protagonist, Fizzy Russo, has been uprooted from her old home to live with her mother in a townhouse in a different school district, which means that she also has a new school. So she has lost the home she grew up in, her friends, her school, and only sees her father on their visitation weekends. To make matters worse, her father has remarried and now her mother is planning to remarry, too. Since cooking is Fizzy's favorite activity, she comes up with food metaphors to describe her feelings. She says, "ever since my parents' divorce, I felt like I'd lost a really important grocery bag, the one with all the important ingredients - for my life."
Of course, the biggest metaphor is the one in the title, the concept of leftovers. Fizzy sees the new marriages of her parents as a way of starting fresh, like someone who doesn't like leftovers would start making a fresh dinner. "And if Mom was starting fresh, then that made me a kind of leftover, didn't it?" she ponders. And then she adds, "Here's the thing about leftovers: Nobody is ever excited about them; they're just something you have to deal with." Her way of trying to be the most attractive leftover she can be is to try and be perfect. In her mind, if she has perfect grades and helps around the house and never makes any mistakes, her parents and stepparents will find her easier to deal with. The problem is that she never talks to anyone about these feelings, even when people like the school guidance counselor reach out to her.
I don't want you to think that the story is depressing, because it isn't. There are great moments of humor scattered throughout the book, and they often give you glimpses of what Fizzy was like before she decided to run herself ragged trying to be perfect. For instance, she explains that the popular girls at school are very into fashion and the leader of the group seems to think anything with a ruffle is fashionable. Fizzy states that she isn't ever going to be one of the popular girls because, "I don't do ruffles, bows, flowers, or sequins - I am against the cruel treatment of clothes by way of bedazzling."
I love the friends that Fizzy has at her new school. Miyoko and Zach help her find things to laugh about, even if it is Miyoko's mother losing her skirt and standing in the front yard in her granny panties. They stick up for her against the popular girls and even the math teacher. The three of them have fun and listen to each other. Her Aunt Liz is another great person in her life. Fizzy has a great time practicing her cooking and trying out recipes at Liz's house after school. Her mom and dad have their moments, but they are so busy getting on with their new lives that it is very easy to see why Fizzy feels like a leftover.
Kids who are in the post-divorce situation will enjoy seeing that they are not alone in these experiences. It may even open their eyes to the fact that adults don't have all the answers and they may not even realize how hard they make things for their kids. I hope it shows them that talking things over with a trusted adult can help gain some perspective about everything. As someone who went through the whole divorce thing with her own parents, I can say that adults reading it may feel like they have had a really good therapy session when they reach the end.
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
I joined in the Live Chat with C.C. Payne sponsored by the Penguin Young Readers Author Program. She shared a couple of photos with us; one is her dog, Peach, and the other is her writing desk.
For more information about the author, visit her wesbite.
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