KYLE FINDS HER WAY

Kirkus Reviews

Kyle can have a hard time telling the truth, both to others and to herself. Just starting sixth grade, she quickly falls for really cute Reed, who’s English. Unfortunately, just as quickly, one of her BFFs, Sheroo, also develops a crush on him. As a character, Kyle has a lot to recommend her. When an oversized bully starts tormenting Marcy, a girl with hearing aids, Kyle responds, although too aggressively. That gets her into much hot water, mostly with her mother, who is too quick to draw conclusions and too slow to recognize her daughter’s strong underlying values. Kyle’s school-assigned punishment is that she’s forced to join NAVS, a competitive problem-solving team. It turns out to be a perfect fit but results in even more conflict with both Sheroo and her mom. Kyle’s narration cleverly but unconsciously interweaves the wise messages she learns from tai chi in gym class with her growing self-awareness. Her conflicts with her friends and her parents are well-realized and believable, and her voice has a subtle edge of humor and self-deprecation that enlivens the presentation. Amusing, engaging, and honest, Kyle and her struggles and successes will be familiar to many middle school girls.

 

School Library Journal

Kyle is nervous about middle school, where, for the first time, she won’t be in homeroom with her best friend, Sheroo. She is relieved to meet new friendly faces on her first morning of sixth grade, but her optimism is dashed when she lands in the principal’s office for fighting a bully. Kyle’s principal recognizes her “crusading spirit,” however, and recommends a nontraditional consequence: membership in the school’s creative problem-solving club, called NAVS. Kyle is intrigued by the problem their team is assigned, and she feels proud of her positive contributions. Unfortunately, outside of NAVS, Kyle’s decision-making isn’t quite as positive; she begins to develop a pattern of hiding things from her parents. She is heartbroken when her mother forbids her to continue with NAVS. Even worse, Sheroo is mad at her over a boy. Luckily, Kyle has developed some new healthy friendships with peers who help her to atone for her mistakes and fix her relationships with her parents and her best friend. Told with wit and charm, Salom’s debut is sure to make readers think and laugh. While some characters are a bit one-note, the story is relatable and appealing overall. Bonus: the novel includes a positive and authentic portrayal of a character who is hearing-impaired. VERDICT: In the same vein as R.J. Palacio’s breakout hit Wonder, this charming middle grade debut will strike a chord with readers who enjoy realistic fiction with depth.

 

Children’s Literature

The first day of sixth grade can be daunting by any standards. New teachers, a different and usually bigger school building, and a lot of unknowns, from whether best friends will be in the same homeroom to what activities will be available. Kyle dons her blue fedora and jumps in with both feet. The first day finds her meeting a student from England defending a new classmate from big bully Ino, being sent to the principal, and suddenly at-odds with one of her best friends. As if that’s not enough, Kyle also purposefully takes the wrong school bus at the end of the day. Fortunately, her twin, fifth-grader “Meowsie,” brings his bike and skateboard to one of those stops so Kyle can get home. Although Kyle saw each decision as logical—for example, taking the bus gave her more time to interact with the new student, punching the bully got him to give the hearing aid back—her parents ground her. The year is off to a bad start for Kyle; but with her charisma and problem-solving ability, there is good reason to hope it will improve. Susie Salom’s debut novel features a quick-witted, good-hearted heroine. Questions of friendship, devotion, truth, communication, teamwork, and success are explored with humor and candor. The only disappointment with this appealing story is that it comes to an end. Highly recommended.

 

Publishers Weekly

In this empowering coming-of-age story, Kyle Constantini begins sixth grade secure in her friendships with pals Sheroo and Brooke, but complications quickly arise. Boy-crazy Sheroo develops a crush on a new student named Reed, who clicks with Kyle, and Brooke is acting mysterious about medical tests she needs. After Kyle impulsively hits classmate Ino for picking on a student with hearing aids, she is assigned to participate in NAVS, a competitive problem-solving group. Kyle winds up loving the group, but her parents pull their already-grounded daughter from NAVS after discovering that one of its meetings looks more like an unsupervised pool party. Kyle navigates these and other problems with help from wise teachers and insight from friends, eventually coming to better understand herself and the people around her. Debut author Salom gives Kyle a punchy narrative voice whose quirks can feel forced at times. But the novel offers some intriguing ideas about connections that transcend verbal communication, which should leave readers with plenty to think about.

 

Booklist

Navigating middle school on day one is daunting for any incoming sixth-grader, but Kyle Constantini is off to a particularly terrible start. She is in a different section than her two best friends; gets lost and is almost late for her first class; punches a class bully for nearly stepping on her new friend Marcy’s hearing aids; is assigned by the principal to participate in the school’s NAVS (Negotiating Actions and Values for Solutions) team; and rides Marcy’s bus rather than her own. Of course, she gets in trouble with her parents for these faux pas, and as new dilemmas crop up, she can’t seem to explain her way out of them no matter how honorable or naive her intentions have been. Resolutions are reached, and with each, Kyle matures. Sixth-grade female angst rings true in this debut novel. Salom has Kyle tell the story and uses fantastic dialogue to let this coming-of-age story shine. Middle-grade readers will relate to Kyle’s missteps and the frequently overwhelming environment of middle school.

 

El Paso Times

YA novels are not just for Young Adults. They’re for the S-YAs, too. The sorta young adults. And El Paso-based author Susie Salom gets it just right in her novel, “Kyle Finds Her Way.”

“Kyle” explores a familiar subject — starting middle school — with warmth and vibrancy. Kyle is a character that sticks with you after you’ve finished reading. For the younger set, they might relate to Kyle and her experiences. And older readers might see glimpses of their younger selves.

The book follows Kyle Constantini, an 11-year-old sixth-grader, as she learns to navigate middle school. She punches Inocente, the biggest bully at Georgia O’Keeffe Middle School, on her first day there. Her actions get her in trouble with a whole slew of adults, but also set her on a path of growth, compassion and friendship as she tries to float above the chaos of a new school.

After punching Ino, Kyle is sent to join NAVS, an academic club at the middle school, by the fair and wise Principal Bracamontes. It’s while she’s in NAVS that Kyle meets new friends, lies to her parents and develops a budding crush on Reed, a new student with an Australian accent.

While all of the above makes Kyle sound like a troublemaker, she proves throughout the entire book that she knows how to hold her own and problem solve. Sure, she had plenty of help from her teachers and friends. But at the end, Kyle rights her wrongs on her own terms, which makes her a protagonist worth rooting for.

The novel is full of lessons we hope our kids learn and the lessons we wish we had learned at that age.

With the help of her surroundings, Kyle learns the importance of honesty and communication. At one point of the book, Kyle and her best friend Sheroo argue over a boy they both like. But they come to the realization that their friendship is worth more than any crush. That’s a lesson I’m still struggling to learn, many years after finishing middle school.

Other highlights in “Kyle” include fleeting references to El Paso and the desert, which makes the read more engaging. At one point in the story, Kyle and her family leave the desert for a forest. And although Salom doesn’t name the place by name, it sounds like the forest could be the same one surrounding New Mexico mountain towns like Ruidoso and Cloudcroft.

The characters in “Kyle” are diverse and well-written. Meowsie, Kyle’s twin brother, is quiet and inquisitive. Marcy, a new student who uses two hearing aids, is intelligent and level-headed when faced with the stress of starting at a new school. Even Ino, the bully, has redemptive qualities, and comes back to save the day toward the end of the book. The characters all sound like kids I would’ve gone to school with.

Although “Kyle” is mainly for fifth through ninth graders, Salom’s style makes her book resonate to a wider audience. She’s masterful at writing simply constructed phrases that carry a lasting impact. “It sounds like a hole being torn in the galaxy but it’s just Cameron,” although said by Kyle in passing, is just one example of how Salom crafts her sentences for maximum impact.

It could be argued that the theme of “Kyle” can be boiled down to one phrase: “Every thing is every things.” Our actions affect others. Others affect us. We’re not just solitary beings, floating around and bumping into one another, even at 11 years old.