Jennifer Chan is Not Alone
Penguin Random House, 2022
Different timelines relate the first person account of Mallory Moss, who is reeling from the disappearance of her former friend and neighbor, Jennifer Chan. Current chapters show the disappearance of Jennifer, the community's reaction, and Mallory's involvement in the search. Through the chapters set in the past we get the backstory of the girl's initial friendship, Jennifer's preoccupation with alien life, troubles at school, and Mallory's eventual desertion of Jennifer in order to not be ostracized socially. Mallory eventually makes the choice to abandon her school friends, who she realizes are not nice people, to reunited with a former nerdy, yet smart friend, to get to the bottom of the disappearance. The two join forces with another girl and, through reading Jennifer's journals, attempt to figure out if she really did make contact with aliens. The plot reaches a crescendo as Mallory's worlds collide in order to save Jennifer, once she figures out where she is. Can Mallory get to Jennifer in time?
This is a deceptive book. At first glance it seems like a possible alien story with a mystery, but at its core is a friendship tale. Readers will experience firsthand what bullying looks and feels like, along with the possible motivations and consequences. Both sides of the equation are explored. An author's note relates Keller's own experience from middle school, which inspired this story and will bring authenticity to the tale. There are parts that were hard for me to read, as Mallory finally takes ownership of her actions and the reader gets the full truth behind Jennifer's disappearance. What I love about the book is that although there are some permanently severed relationships, the protagonists find redemption and forgiveness of sorts. Readers will see that no matter how horrible their life is-or they are-this time is not forever and there is hope for the future. in a time of tween/teen suicide, this is an important message. Other messages include identity, the importance of community, and accepting differences. Timelines are clearly labeled and easy to follow, interspersed with excerpts from Jennifer's journal. An important and surprising contribution from a Newbery Medal winning author.