Sonia and I have a lot in common. Our parents are divorced. Our dads are gay.
We both love barbecue potato chips. But she is different from me in at least one way: you can't tell how she's feeling just by looking at her. At all.
When Bea's dad and his wonderful partner, Jesse, decide to marry, it looks as if Bea's biggest wish is coming true: she's finally (finally!) going to have a sister. They're both ten. They're both in fifth grade.
Though they've never met, Bea knows that she and Sonia will be perfect sisters. Just like sisters anywhere, Bea thinks. But as the wedding day approaches, Bea makes discoveries that lead her to a possibly disastrous choice.
Making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy in this brilliant modern classic by Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead.
Reviewed by Jo Bowers
The List of Things That Will Not Change is uplifting and totally engaging story is down to the style Rebecca Stead writes through the main character, twelve-year-old, Bea, and the conversational way she tells us her story. The story takes part in a section of her life, between the ages of 8-10 when her parents’ divorce and her Dad was getting married to his boyfriend, Jesse. The story jumps back and forth through this time, with Bea sharing how she feels about having two places to live. We get to know Bea too when the story jumps back to different episodes in Bea’s life. This also gives us clues that there is an emerging story within the story. No spoilers from me here!
What also makes this book such a powerful read is the way Bea shares her emotions. There are so many moments throughout the book where Rebecca Stead captures an emotion or feeling so beautifully. One example is when Bea is trying to get to know how her new step sister to-be, Sonia, is feeling and Bea finds she is not able to read her emotions. She likens this to an art project she did when she was younger:
‘We used crayons to color in every inch of a piece of paper…then she handed out these extra-fat crayons, dark blue, and told us to cover up our colours…Finally Ms Adams gave us wooden Popsicle sticks and told us to scratch designs into the dark…and the colours underneath came through, surprising us.
That was how I felt that night with Sonia. Like I was waiting to find out what was underneath.’
Through this anecdotal style of story, which always involves Bea’s family including her parents and her father’s partner, the aunt, uncle, and cousins at the annual two-week summer vacation, and the new sister by marriage whose visit she is so excited to meet, Rebecca Stead explores a lot of big themes. These are divorce, therapy, Bea finding out her dad is gay, homophobia, worrying and managing eczema. At all times the tone is light but poignant, so always acknowledging the seriousness of the themes.
Rebecca Stead’s style is spot on. The experiences that Bea goes through are all very real, contemporary situations that many children will relate to. The book’s strength is also that it doesn’t seek to resolve everything at the end and so acknowledges that life can bring problems that are not always easy to solve. It also shows us, through Bea, that individuals are not perfect and do make mistakes but that does not make a bad person. Bea does come through with help, understanding and support.
Threaded throughout the whole book is Bea’s own green notebook where she lists by number all the things that will not change which she keeps coming back to and adding to. This list reminds us that through all challenges we can find reassurance, that some things will stay constant and the same.
The List of Things That Will Not Change is another fantastic story by Rebecca Stead and I wholeheartedly agree with the New York Times description of Rebecca Stead as a ‘writer of great feeling’.