Written By: Margaret Dilloway
Cover Art by: Yaoyao Ma Van As
For Ages: Middle Grade
Topics Covered: Invisible Disabilities, Interracial Families, Anxiety, Growing Up, Acting, Improv, Friendship, Gentrification, Activism, Community Organizing, Japanese-American, Own Voices.
Half-Japanese Ava Andrews has two invisible disabilities that complicate her life: a pacemaker from a genetic heart condition, and anxiety, which can trigger heart episodes. On top of all this, Ava’s best friend Zelia moved away and she has to navigate sixth grade alone. Zelia was the outgoing and theatrical half of the duo, and Ava can hardly speak up in class. One of Zelia’s improv group friends hears a teacher read a story Ava wrote out loud and invites her to join the group. Ava joins in an attempt to convince her parents she’s capable of taking a trip to visit Zelia in Maine. Soon, Ava finds that improv actually helps her severe anxiety! When the theatre there the group has class is under threat due to gentrification, the group of kids learn about community organizing, and different forms of protest through Ava’s step-grandmother in an attempt to save both the theatre and the other small businesses in the surrounding area.
I really enjoyed this book, and it gave me quite a mirror to reflect my own childhood anxieties (even the same reason for getting into theatre myself). Author Margaret Dilloway wrote this own voices book to share her experiences and is able to convey the complex thoughts and feelings that anxiety causes internally in a way that hit very close to home for me. Having a peek inside another anxious brain was very validating for me, and would be beneficial for others who could be experiencing anxiety themselves, but more so for those who are unfamiliar. The book also talks about perceptions of people, and Ava struggles with being seen as stuck up or spoiled when really she’s paralyzed by anxiety. Ava’s father runs an etiquette cotillion program, and he very deftly explains how although it’s not a person’s fault what another thinks of them, a person can empower themselves to put their best and most polite foot forward to make a good impression. Five Things About Ava Andrews is a beautiful book, and I love the way the plot includes community organizing strategies and etiquette without being heavy handed. Also included is a fantastic author’s note from Margaret describing her own experiences navigating these topics discussed in the book. Absolutely worth a read, and Five Things About Ava Andrews is out now!
This book was kindly sent by Harper Kids, but all opinions are my own!
Margaret is the author of 10 books for kids and adults. She may not particularly look it, but she is half Japanese. (You can see it now, can’t you?). She lives in the southern California area with her family. In February 2020, she was Zion National Park’s Artist-in-Residence, hanging out in Zion for a whole month without Internet. That coupled with the fact she used to teach middle school makes her one of the toughest people alive (this is where a laugh-cry emoji would be inserted).
Yaoyao is an art director, painter, illustrator and occasional animator. Over the years she has worked at Disney TV Animation, Warner Brothers Animation, Rick and Morty, Stoopid Buddy Studios, Starburns Industries, etc. Yaoyao enjoys creating little stories with each of her paintings, especially the ones with her dog Parker in them.
Currently, Yaoyao lives and work in Los Angeles. Yaoyao is also a vegan and animal lover.