I am a strong proponent of reading whatever you want regardless of the grade level. So when a young adult author breaks into the middle grade space, I’m more than happy to follow them there. In this instance, we’re following Leah Johnson with her middle grade debut Ellie Engle Saves the World Herself.
Ellie Engle is just your average middle schooler - and she likes it that way. She relishes in living her life in the shadows, letting her best friend Abby shine. As long as she’s got her bestie and a comic book, she’s all set. Everything changes when a freak earthquake hits their town and Ellie wakes up with the ability to bring dead things back to life with just a touch. When a video of her accidentally using her powers goes viral, Ellie gets shoved into the spotlight, somewhere she never wanted to be. Now she has to figure out how to survive middle school while avoiding the paparazzi and not revealing the secret of her feelings for Abby.
This book is for all the comic book nerds out there. And I’m not just talking about those MCU fans who gained all their comic knowledge from the films (which, to be clear, still makes you a “real” fan). I’m talking about the hardcore comic collectors who go to their local comic shop every week for the new releases. That’s Ellie Engle and that is what makes her so relatable. She likes what she likes and she doesn’t let anyone try to change her mind about it. She has strong opinions about DC vs. Marvel, but she knows how to go with the flow and not become toxic about it.
It has been quite some time since I was a middle schooler, but the voice of Ellie as written by Leah Johnson feels incredibly accurate. The way in which Ellie speaks is not too mature and she focuses on all the things that a kid would focus on. The story is told strictly through Ellie’s POV and it was like sitting and listening to a middle schooler talk about their day and what is going on in their life. It always amazes me when I read middle grade because the idea of writing with such a young voice as an adult seems like an impossible task, but Johnson tackled it head on and does it well.
Though the story itself is very low stakes, it feels high stakes because everything at that age is the end of the world. The anxiety that Ellie feels jumps off the page. You are transported back to that time in your life and how overwhelming even the littlest things can be. And boy does Ellie have some things to get overwhelmed by! Other than the new powers showing up to throw a curveball into her life, she also has to navigate the fact that she doesn't think boys are cute in the way that all the girls at school seem to...in fact, she thinks girls are cute in that way instead. Ellie's queerness is not a primary focus of the book, but I am so glad that it (as well as some others!) is featured at all - representation matters across all age groups and all media.
If you’re looking for a fun story to share with your kids that is packed full of all the comic references you could ever want (or if you just want to enjoy it yourself!), Ellie Engle Saves Herself by Leah Johnson is a great choice. Pick up a copy for yourself now using my Bookshop affiliate link or grab one from my local indie Linden Tree Books (without whom this review would not be possible).
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will be supporting indie bookstores as well!