A Work in Progress

A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner (EngiNerds series) is an earnest and inspiring illustrated middle-grade novel in verse that grapples with bullying, the feeling of estrangement, and the social stigma attached to being in a larger body.

In fourth grade, Will was verbally attacked by bully Nick. "You're fat," Nick spat at Will, "You're fat. And everyone thinks it." Although Will was comforted and reassured by friends in the moment, "three years and two or three months" later, he is still traumatized by the event. Will recalls Nick's words in a never-ending repetitive loop, internalizing them; he feels different from his classmates--"ugly," "less than," a "monster." Will's self-hatred leads to social isolation and an unhealthy relationship with food that includes both binge eating and self-starvation. Then Will is approached by Markus, a kind and confident skateboarder. Will is encouraged through his developing friendship with Markus to view himself not as a failure or an outcast, but as a work in progress.

Lerner's novel is striking, sincere, and sensitive to the very real problems of bullying and ostracization. Visually, the book recalls a middle-schooler's notebook, with a font reminiscent of penciled handwriting and striking cartoonish doodles that illustrate the novel's events and Will's emotional reactions to them. Throughout the novel Lerner uses repetition, emphases (such as bolding and capitalization), and free-verse forms to illustrate feelings of chaos and disorientation, anxiety, and oppressive self-loathing, and--eventually--determination and self-acceptance. A Work in Progress conveys a resounding and empowering message of self-love. --Cade Williams, freelance reviewer

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