Summary: Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is Debbi Michiko Florence’s middle-grade debut. Keiko is thrilled that her two BFFs, Jenna and Audrey, are reuniting with her after their first ever summer apart. But when Jenna returns from Texas, she’s doesn’t seem to fit back in seamlessly anymore — probably because they stopped texting each other after a while. It doesn’t help that Audrey seems boy-crazy and has never really gotten on too well with Jenna anyway.
As Jenna and Audrey’s friendship deteriorates over the fall, Keiko feels torn between both girls. She also rekindles some old friendships that threaten her relationship with Audrey. As a result, confrontation-averse, peace-making Keiko is forced to decide whether or not she will stand up for herself in her friendship with Audrey. On top of everything else, Keiko’s family seems to be changing: her mom is working later and later, and seems to be avoiding coming home — and her little sister seems to keeping a secret. Will Keiko keep it all together?
WOW, I LOVED THIS BOOK. It felt like the kind of book I needed at Keiko’s age. Toxic friendships happen at any age and the author does an excellent job at portraying the effects of a controlling friend, especially when you dislike confrontation. Keiko is a clever, genuinely (almost annoyingly) kind, and responsible girl. She has a strong desire to be helpful and supportive and relentlessly tries to preserve her friendship with Jenna and Audrey. I loved that it was a no-brainer for her to remain friends with Jenna even when Audrey wasn’t friends with Jenna. The friendship dynamics are beautifully written and even though the story is told from Keiko’s perspective, the reader gets a good view of all three girls.
Keiko’s family is also central to this book. I loved watching the evolution of her relationship with Macy, her sister. I also enjoyed seeing how the family dealt with Keiko’s mother’s absence and just the entire trajectory of the story. All the drama with Audrey and her brother Conner, as well as how it affected Keiko was fascinating. As the author peels back the layers of the sibling rivalry, it’s easy to see how parents can contribute to their children’s issues.
One final issue (or two) is the way the author handles Keiko’s Asian roots — she’s half-Japanese, Jenna’s Japanese-American. Japanese food is a part of the Carter’s household and Keiko encounters microaggressions and racism from a classmate. Keiko’s able to recognize both and tackles them gracefully and effectively.
Overall: Keep It Together, Keiko Carter
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a strong middle-grade debut, perfect for anyone who enjoys middle-grade books about friendships. Parents and teachers who want to encourage their middle schoolers to stand up for themselves in the midst of a toxic friendship would do well to hand this book to them. At the end, it’s so important to learn that some friendships end, and that’s OK. Finally, it’s a breath of fresh air to read a book with a half-Japanese protagonist who deals with racism, but also just lives a normal life. I also loved that although Jenna’s on honor roll, Keiko is just a regular student; not all Asians are “geniuses.”
In case you couldn’t tell, I adored this novel and would highly recommend it!
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More Middle-Grade Books About Friendships
- The Prettiest by Brigit Young
- That’s What Friends Do by Cathleen Barnhart
- The Long Ride by Tamar Budhos
Have you read any of Debbi Michiko Florence’s books? I love her Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series! Which other Asian middle-grade books have you read and loved? I have a list of over 50 selections here.
*I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.