Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE by Rebecca Stead

Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Nadia Salomon

THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE is by Newbery Medalist, Rebecca Stead, who writes this story with heart and is very conversational. The main character, Bea, invites us into her world starting and ending with a metaphor about corn. The metaphor ties back to family bonds, forging relationships, and the realization that families can be created.

Bea tells us her family’s story of change through various memories, therapy, school situations, and through her LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE.

Bea received ‘The list’ from her parents after they announced getting a divorce. The first three things on the list:

1. Mom loves you more than anything, always.

2. Dad loves you more than anything, always.

3. Mom and Dad love each other, but in a different way.

As Bea’s life changes, and her LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE grows – we go along for the ride processing her emotions, guilt, anger, longing for a sibling, and trying to find her place in her new family structure.   

Stead captures kid relatable emotions like:

Everyone who knows me agrees that I’m no good at hiding how I feel. Dad says I wear my heart on my sleeve, and that means when I’m sad or mad or happy, you can tell it just by looking at me. Sometimes the person looking at me knows how I feel even before I do. But then I catch up. (p 32)

As readers, we catch up with Bea and her growth trajectory through her feelings, going through therapy, developing a relationship with her future step-sister, Sonia, letters, Skype, and realizing we are all human, imperfect, and connect in ways we don’t always expect.

One of the most emotionally resonating moments in the book comes during Sonia’s visit. There’s a realization over compatibility and finding that connection doesn’t have to be direct or through words.

THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE covers so many themes from divorce, love, interpersonal relationships, coping with change, making choices and the consequences that follow, normalizing mental health, managing anger, bullying, friendship, defining family, homophobia, Bell’s palsy, and marriage. I appreciate how this book normalizes LGBTQ families and their struggles against homophobia. It also touches upon the impact of divorce for every person involved from both the adult and child perspective. Stead wrote this in an age-appropriate manner. It is spot on for kid relatability to time, truth, and learning to find oneself and accepting mistakes.

Share
Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Julie Corsaro says:

    I appreciate the steady cadence of Stead’s prose and the narrative structure of her book; as Nadia Solomon indicates, it comes full circle (and while the actual committee can’t make the comparison, what a sleight of hand for an author so affiliated with New York City to begin in a Midwestern corn field). Stead effectively conveys the emotional life of a child, including feelings that can make us uncomfortable, like intense anger misdirected.

  2. I read this one back in the early Spring, and though I loved it, it has gradually fallen away from my memory. That said, I think it is another remarkable book from Stead with excellent characterization and solid plotting. I especially appreciate the way Stead has that almost-magical ability to write books that kids love just as much as adults. I know that sounds like it should be obvious, but those of us who’ve been following this Newbery train for many years know how often that isn’t the case.

    I do remember the wedding scene at the end, but what I can’t recall now is whether I thought it particularly well-done or the part of the book that strained credulity. I’m going to go look at my copy now, but I’d be interested to hear what others thought about that climactic event.

    • Carrie Bruner says:

      I agree with you that the wedding scene strained credulity a bit, but maybe it was more of hoping that no one could ever do something so monstrous, although I know they can.

      I do really love Stead’s writing style and am always impressed how well she writes the emotions of children. I, like you, read this book in the spring and similarly, found myself struggling to recall much about it. However, the author’s other books stuck with me for much longer. However, I did greatly enjoy this and think the topics it addresses, such as divorce, controlling emotions, and discrimination will resonate strongly with students.

      • Charlotte Chung says:

        Great intro Nadia! I agree with everything you said Sara Beth. Reading this book, I also felt that children and adults could enjoy it. I would recommend this book to parents of children who are divorcing. I could imagine it would be a helpful tool to open a discussion with children about the implications of divorce on the family.

        Another element that I really appreciated about this book was how Stead depicts Bea’s anxiety, stress, and emotions (and how she navigates this anxiety and worry with the support of her loved ones and therapist). I hope that we will see more children’s books that normalize therapy and anxiety in such a careful and compassionate way that Stead manages here.

    • Amanda Bishop says:

      I agree with you Sara Beth. This was also I book I read earlier this year and loved it. I think Stead has the ability to write wonderfully through the eyes of a child. But for me there isn’t anything pulling at me that gives me the impression that this was a truly outstanding book. Especially in comparison with all of the other wonderful books that were published in 2020.

  3. Courtney Hague says:

    I loved this book. I am always impressed by how well Stead can convey children’s complex emotions. This book gives us a character who grows throughout the book in really realistic ways and experiences lots of emotions which are demonstrated subtly to the reader.

    To speak to Sara Beth’s concern about the wedding scene at the end. I think it was pretty well-done. I guess I should have seen it coming that the brother was going to make a scene at the wedding. That part seemed like maybe a bit of a stretch. Would an adult go through all that trouble just to disrupt their sibling’s wedding when they haven’t spoken in so long? Wouldn’t they have just taken their sibling aside and spoken to them privately? But there are some people who want the attention or want to make a scene, so I guess that was him. We only really got to see that character through the eyes of Bea and Sonia and the stories that Sheila tells. I really appreciated the contrast between Jesse’s brother and Bea’s uncle at the wedding and the way the reader could see that some families are supportive while others aren’t and that families are made.

    • Emily Mroczek says:

      I struggled with the wedding scene too. It just seemed to manufactured to prove the point how family members can be different levels of supportive. I feel like it would have made more sense if Mission had not shown up at the wedding. But the fact that he was with them all week, hanging out and sharing meals… wouldn’t someone have realized he actually wasn’t supportive of this situation? It’s hard for me to compute and I’d be curious to hear other people’s thoughts on that.

  4. Anna Nielen says:

    Bea’s parents get divorced, and it’s one of those divorces that are really, actually, okay. Her parents give her a list called Things That Will Not Change when they give her the news, and numbers one and two are “Mom loves you more than anything, always” and “Dad loves you more than anything, always.” Number three is “Mom and Dad love each other, but in a different way.” See? It’s a divorce that is really, actually, okay. Bea’s parents get her a therapist just in case anyway, and the therapist turns out to be really, actually, more than okay. When Bea’s father gets engaged to his boyfriend, it’s a joyous thing. Stead gives us a novel about a girl growing up and going through changes and making some mistakes and getting some help, in which everything is okay, even when we might not expect it to be, which is a nice reminder for all ages. It’s an even-paced novel, satisfying in the normalcy it conveys that life is life and what is normal anyway? We all have hurts but they don’t have to be harsh, and we all have joys and they don’t have to be loud. Life can just be life. Stead has a knack for giving us books that rudder us.

  5. Meredith Burton says:

    I love how Rebecca Stead tells this story in a nonlinear style, following Bea’s seemingly convoluted thought processes. I loved how every seemingly insignificant plot point came together. Even the making of the butter served to emphasize perseverance. While I think Everything Sad is Untrue uses the same seemingly noncohesive style to greater effect, Stead did an amazing job of keeping my interest. I wanted to keep reading to see how the sound of growing corn fitted into the narrative as a whole. I think that ultimate reveal was beautiful.
    Bea is authentic and reminded me so much of myself growing up. Like her, I was a worrier and was always scared of making people angry. The hot dog incident, where she eats the hot dog because the pilot ordered it for her specially, even if she didn’t want it, perfectly illustrated her sensitivity. Bea has an authentic voice. In this year of books that deal with toxic families and difficult themes, it is refreshing to read a book that is lighter in tone and has such loving and strong supporting characters. I loved Jesse and all the amazing ways he helps Bea. The scene when he comes to her class for the colonial breakfast is particularly memorable.
    I did figure out Bea’s big secret about Angelica very early in the book, but I appreciated Stead’s decision to slowly allow Bea to reveal the truth of her actions.

    I do feel that Mission’s character is flat and was inserted simply for the author to drive home a point. As with other books this year, I think theme is overemphasized a bit too often. Anytime I complain about this fact about any book, I feel guilty, because the themes addressed are important. However, I feel the overemphasis can sometimes impede the narrative flow. Unfortunately, I did not find Mission’s actions at the wedding unbelievable. There is much hatred and fear regarding this topic. I didn’t worry, though, because I knew he would be sent away. I like that Stead put this in to show the reality about this issue, but I still feel that his character was unnecessary.

  6. Rox Anne Close says:

    I loved this book. Stead really gets how kids think and act. Her delightfully imperfect characters jumped off the page for me. I adored Bea from the beginning, and I’m not sure why especially since she was ‘single-minded’, had anger issues and at times was very mean. After all, she stole Lizette’s root beer, pushed Angus off the chair, played a trick on Carolyn Shattuck, and harbored a terrible secret about her cousin. Maybe Stead’s authentic, low-key approach to Bea’s emotional life helped me see right into her soul.

    I really enjoyed the secondary character Angus, what a great friend he was! He listened to Bea’s rambling about Star Trek, worried when she wasn’t at school, introduced you to the ‘orphan coats”, (Gerald, Phoebe and Tim), ate oysters at the school colonial party even though he hates scallops, and told Bea the spelling parties she missed were boring, even when they were actually fun. He was always helping Bea sort out her feelings, even though she had been mean to him in the past.

    I thought it was clever for Stead to note the passage of time, through rambling letters Bea wrote to Sonia, monthly spelling parties that Bea could never attend, and Bea’s list of things that will not change. Stead writes with such an authentic voice and attention to detail, such as when Bea was hugging her mom, ” My face was mushed against her, so one ear hears the regular way, and the other one hears things through her body”. Or how she described the first time when Bea went to live at her dad’s house after the divorce; “Those first months at Dad’s, it was like I had to build a hundred bridges, from me to every new piece of furniture, every new lamp, even the bathroom faucet and the lock on the door until slowly all of Dad’s new things stopped feeling wrong.”

    But mostly, I loved how Bea’s telling of her story goes off on little tangents, and how every wandering thought connects back to something or lightens the tension. Such as the awkward decision whether to invite Mission, Jesse’s brother to the wedding. Stead wrote, “Dad had folded the invitation list into a tiny square and he was squeezing it between two fingers. Angus told me that you can’t fold a sheet of paper more than seven times. It’s impossible.”

    I think this book resonates with kids and deserves to win a Newbery Award. Stead is a master at crafting authentic and extraordinary characters. She handles big issues, (divorce, complicated family dynamics, anger and anxiety), in thought provoking ways without being preachy. Stead definitely knows how to lay out a story.

  7. Aud Hogan says:

    I think what I appreciated the most about this book was how Stead showed how Bea felt, especially when her big feelings were getting the best of her. The way her body reacted before she threw the candy corn at the one party, for example, or how she felt before the loft incident: you didn’t just feel like you were inside her head, you felt like you were inhabiting her entire body. Likewise, I really appreciated all of the scenes were Bea was talking to her therapist. There aren’t a lot of everyday kids going to therapy in kidlit yet, and I think it’s handled really well, here. Bea has a really good one, and, from the way she’s telling her story, you can see the effects of her time in counseling. Some of the phrases her therapist uses are echoed in the storytelling, which I felt added nuance.

    I also appreciated how the adults felt like real people, too. Bea didn’t always understand them, necessarily, but she caught enough details about their words, actions, and reactions that the reader could read between the lines and interpret some of their thoughts. I think Stead did an excellent job of straddling that tightrope of making the adults feel fully realized, without making Bea feel too old or precocious for her age. A good example of that is when the adults are gently prodding Bea to consider that Sonia might not be ready to jump into being sisters right away, but Bea is refusing to get it. Or the scenes where Mission is discussed, before Bea is read in on all of the background. Or when Bea’s mother invites her friend over to “teach her” how to roast a chicken, but then doesn’t actually make any moves to learn from the experience. Those scenes were all done really well.

  8. Like others, I read the e-book early in the spring and have forgotten some details, but remembered how easy it was to get into Bea’s world, her anxieties, resilience, everyday life. I enjoyed her relationship with her father (and Jesse). I knew there were some remarkable images, but couldn’t remember which until reading the opinions above ( the image of Mom’s squashing hug). I know Stead is known for her non-linear style, but I didn’t see it so much here. The story rolled along ( more than i can remember from Liar and Spy) and not including the tension with Mission, brought Bea into her new world as she had been hoping. I’m hoping it will be noticed.

  9. Emily Mroczek (Bayci) says:

    As others have stated, I really appreciated the character development of Bea and most specifically I think how she pushed Angelica was well done. Stead really builds up all of Bea’s emotions and truly conveys the feelings (confusion and regret) of a young girl. I feel like any person with anger issues can truly relate to this.

    I also appreciated how going to therapy was normalized in this book (along with divorce and LGBTQ parents// also showing that it isn’t always “normal”)

Speak Your Mind

*