This book was quick and sweet. I think it's a really accessible option for kids looking for depictions of grief that aren't too heavy.
I also appreciated that it showed other family members relationships to one another. I thought everyone felt realistic which is difficult to capture. There were a few moments that made me raise an eyebrow (the whole avocado bit), but overall I think this will be an easy read for those wanting realistic fiction!
Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advance reader copy of this special book. When I tell you that I was hooked from the title and the cover, I'm not kidding.
Twelve year old Freya's beloved father died unexpectedly eight months ago, leaving her, her older sister May, and her mother to navigate the ups and downs of life in suburban New York without the glue that held them together. Freya's father was unendingly proud of her innate talent at the viola, and now that he's gone, she feels that it would be a betrayal to quit playing even though she no longer wants to. Freya clings to her father's superstitious beliefs and takes the continual appearance of two red birds (red being meaningful in Chinese culture) as a sign that her father wants her to continue playing.
On top of dealing with her own grief, Freya has to navigate the daily of challenges of both Middle School and a mom and teenage sister who seem to always be at odds. Her clumsy nemesis Gus seems out to get her with milkshakes and constant food spills. But when Freya discovers the joys of cooking, she also discovers there might be more to Gus than she always thought. And through cooking, she also finds her way to advocating for herself.
E.L. Shen does such a beautiful job of gently exploring the topic of grief in an age-appropriate way. She tells this tender story of love, loss, and family with humor and a sweetness that makes you not want to the story to end. I highly recommend this gorgeous book to young and older readers alike!
There’s something really special about a book that gently invites readers into the landscape of grief. Some of the moments in the book are so heartbreaking. Freya’s longing for her dad, her struggle to make sense of the world without him, and to find signs from him around her to keep him close felt so real.
I loved the way she discovered her unexpected love for food and cooking and how that helped her reframe some of the memories about her family and even forge new connections with family and friends. I also liked that between the lines of the book, it was easy to see Freya’s mom and sister wrestling with their own grief in their own ways. The author really nailed those kinds of moments in the book, where Freya doesn’t pick up on someone else’s feelings, but there are enough clues for the reader to figure it out.
On the whole, I really liked this book. I loved the role of music, food, and family in the book, and the relationships between the characters. I think fans of Gillian McDunn and Kate Messner will love this book.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.
Maybe It's a Sign was a quick and compelling read for me. However, the story came off as cliche, like something I've watched on the Disney Channel. Predictable, somewhat cheesy, and not fully developed. In the end, this is probably not one I'd recommend to my middle grade readership.
Facing grief, Freya looks to the signs. She looks to the superstitions her dad taught her to figure out what she should do. Is her dad speaking to her through this language they shared? The superstitions, the ideas, that we think will keep us safe from the things that happen out of the blue. Like heart attacks and lost dads. Freya turns to the signs, even when she isn't sure if they're pointing her in the right direction. There's something universal and relatable about Freya. About being unsure what we should do and seeing something and thinking, "maybe it's a sign".
Maybe It’s a Sign by E. L. Shen, 240 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan Publishing), 2024. $18.
Language: PG (4 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG
BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ADVISABLE
AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE
Freya’s dad died eight months ago, but the pain is still fresh—especially because Freya (13yo) is struggling to enjoy playing her viola. Her dad loved that Freya played the viola. As she struggles to make decisions moving forward, Freya looks for a sign that her dad is still there. And he shows up—as a pair or lucky red birds.
Through Freya’s story, Shen tells readers it’s okay to not be okay. Another important message conveyed is that finding reasons to be happy and chasing new dreams while the world feels like it’s falling apart are good things. As humans, punishing ourselves for the sake of grief can feel like the right thing to do, even when it isn’t. Using support systems and moving forward with life helps more than self-punishment and guilt.
Freya and her family are Chinese, and Gus and his family are Korean. The violence rating is for mild description of blood and fantasy violence in a movie that triggers Freya, as well as some non-serious mentions of murder.
Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen
Every year I vow to read more middlegrade and then I don't, but hopefully this year is different and I'll actually pick up a lot! This one was a great one to start with. It's a tender, heartfelt story about grief and making choices for yourself, and I thought it was such a lovely read. I loved Freya as a main character, and I loved watching her connect with Gus while learning a new hobby.
Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book. It really moved me and I thought it did a wonderful job with a very difficult topic, grief. While I encourage young readers to check the trigger warnings, I think the topic was handled in such a sensitive and realistic way.
Freya is in the seventh grade. She’s a talented violist but she’s dealing with the unexpected loss of her father. She sees signs all around her and it reminds her of her father’s Chinese superstitions. She thinks that sometimes it’s a sign of something bad about to happen which causes her anxiety and worry.
Freya befriends a kid in her grade and they start cooking together. She discovers a love of baking which helps her through some tough times.
Terrific story that handles grief in a thoughtful manner. Highly recommend!
Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. This is a sweet story that approaches grief and anxiety with a delicate hand. I like how the story started several months after the death. Many stories show the initial grief, but not the ongoing grieving and healing that happens. That’s what I love most about this story. The characters are believable and authentic. I very much enjoyed this book!
A heart-warming story of 12 year old Freya as she navigates the loss of her father. After her father passes away, she becomes superstitious and sees everything as a 'sign', as her father taught her about Chinese superstitions. She discovers a passion for cooking and slowly comes out of her shell. This book explores the grief, self-discovery, friendship and acceptance.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux publishers for allowing me to read an eARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This is the story of 7th grader Freya June Sun. Freya's father died suddenly eight month ago and she is struggling with her grief, anxiety, and new family dynamics. She has become obsessed with the Chinese superstitions her father taught her, and is constantly looking for signs from him to help her make decisions so she doesn't disappoint him.
Things are so different now:
*She no longer finds joy in playing the viola that her father bought for her & her orchestra director wants her to sign up for a countywide competition
*Her mom and sister are constantly fighting, and dad is no longer there to smooth things over.
*Her best friends seem to be spending more time away from her.
*She gets partnered with "the most annoying kid on the planet" Gus Choi for a cooking project.
The more time she spends with Gus, the less annoying he seems. While preparing for their project, she finds that she enjoys baking much better than playing viola, but what about her father's wishes?
This is a story of grief, healing, friendship and finding yourself.
Realistic Fiction with an innocent first romance thrown in.
Content Warnings: death of a parent, anxiety, grief
This is a beautiful book about dealing with grief after the loss of a parent. And searching for signs to help you feel closer to them again.
As our main character navigates her grief we see her struggling with decisions in her life and what to look forward to.
This is a great book for any middle grader who maybe dealing with loss and looking for ways to find hope through the darkness.
Thanks NetGalley for this ARC!
I loved this story about a middle school girl's pursuit to deal with life after her father's death and figure out her own interests and passions - apart from those of her father's. Freya and her dad were very close. And she feels him everywhere, especially when she repeatedly sees two red birds, an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture. All of the characters in this book are highly likable and the friendships, young romances, and sibling relationships are relatable and well-developed. I highly recommend this book for fans of touching and "sad" realistic fiction like books by Kelly Yang, Lisa Yee, Dan Gemeinhart, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.
This was a beautifully done children’s fiction book. I really enjoyed getting to read this and getting to know the characters overall in this story. It had a great overall concept and great story going on. I enjoyed the cover a lot and thought it worked with the characters and story within. E. L. Shen has a great writing style and I’m glad I got to read this.
Maybe it's a sign is a wonderful grief story. One day the superstitious father of an American-Chinese family passes away leaving a wife and two daughters. Life continues and we get an insight into their family days and struggle through Freya's perspective (the youngest daughter).
In this tale with slice-of-life vibes, we learn that Freya can't let go of her father's habit of attributing symbolism to all. I relate to many of his suggestions (like opening an umbrella indoors brings bad luck also a European thing). The book is very relatable also when it comes to a twelve-year-old grieving her lost father) Many of the superstitions are a great insight into Asian culture common also to Japan, and Korea (example: sticking the chopsticks in the rice bowl).
I love Freya's journey. She is at an age that brings many changes. She struggles to keep up playing the viola because she thinks her father is sending signals to never give up, and reading into more symbolism around her. Her grieving process is possible with positivity from her family that gets closer, her old friends, new friends, and a new passion for baking.
Themes explored: loss of a parent, single mom struggle, dealing with an impatient older sister, sticking to one hobby because of family pressure, finding a new passion in a new interest, making new friends, giving others a chance, self-discovery, and accepting oneself, sense of community and stronger family bounds, grief through symbolism and signs (finding ways to keep the memory of the person alive and close). Asian culture and traditions.
Very beautiful story. This is my first contact with the author's work, but I am curious to see more.
Thank you NetGalley and publisher for this e-ARC.
A sweet, sensitive depiction of grief and anxiety following the death of a parent. Freya's world feels limited after her father died, and the Chinese superstitions he taught her have become something of a crutch, keeping her from her grief. She's facing changes in her friendships, too, and slowly opens to a new friendship with goofy, accident-prone Gus (who hides secret talents). A gentle read to help younger people feel understood as they cope with big feelings. 3.5 stars rounded up.
Thank you, Farrar Straus Giroux and NetGalley, for providing an eARC of this book. Opinions expressed here are solely my own.
"Maybe It's a Sign" by E.L. Shen is a tender story about 7th grader Freya June Sun, who is navigating the usual hurdles of middle school, while still reeling from the sudden death of her dad a year earlier. In an attempt to find meaning in her grief she looks for signs from her Dad, Chinese superstitions that he taught her. She feels her Dad must be sending her messages to continue to play the viola, a pursuit she no longer finds joy in. Her busy mom and activist sister are fighting all the time. And Freya's best friends are growing apart, And to top it off she is paired with her elementary nemesis, the klutzy Gus Choi, for a cooking project. Gus however proves to be a patient and kind friend. Soon Freya discovers that cooking brings her a sense of calm, and that her passion for it, might help her find healing and grow closer to her family and friends. This book would be a great companion read to the middle grade graphic novel, "Measuring Up", which has similar themes of culture, cooking, family and friends.
Freya June Sun had a very close relationship with her mother, a college professor, her father, an accountant, and her old sister, May. After her father's death eight months previously from a heart attack, she finds herself missing him tremendously and looking for signs from him at every turn. He shared many traditional Chinese superstitions with her, and was also tremendously involved with her musical career playing the viola. The big problem right now is that Freya doesn't really want to play the viola anymore. She is supposed to audition for a larger orchestra, but has so much anxiety about performing that she really doesn't want to. When she is on her way to her school concert to play a solo, she sees it as a sign that she should quit when her family is running late and May wears a white head band (white being the color of death), but then she sees a pair of cardinals, which are a lucky sign. She tries to keep on, even when Gus Choi spills a milkshake all over her concert dress after the performance. Gus is irritating, but when the two are partnered in home ec for a final project that includes preparing a three course meal, she starts to see the sweet side of his personality. She also finds that she very much enjoys baking, and finds it calming. In addition to dealing with her ongoing grief, she has to deal with her sister leaving the house in the middle of the night, her two best friends being obsessed with grades and boys, and worries about the family finances that she overhears her grandparents discussing. When a baking competition is scheduled for the same day as the orchestra try outs, how will she decide which path she should take when there isn't a sign from her father.
Strengths: I was somewhat superstitious as a tween, and Freya's magical thinking rings true. After all, if I walk to work in the snow and fully reassemble, down to lipstick, it means we will have a snow day, because I have that sort of control over the universe. Looking for a sign as a way to handle grief is certainly something that many people do. Her conflicting interests between cooking and viola will speak to readers who are themselves torn between choices their parents make for them and what they really want to do. The best part of this, for me, was the sweet friendship between Gus and Freya that was considerate and supportive, and culminates in a sweet kiss on the cheek that Gus asks about before he does. Also, Gus was a spectacular cook!
Weaknesses: Considering the fact that church aunties had told Freya's mom to get her into grief counseling, it was suprising that her mother had not done this. I was shocked that the school still had TWO cooking labs, since ours has been a faculty lounge for twenty years, but life on the east coast is different in many ways, and I was glad to see a home ec class still in existence. (See Fry's Undercover Chef for a good use of abandoned food labs!)
What I really think: This had many similarities to Karen Chow's Miracle and is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Langley's The Order of Things or Polak's For the Record.
A touching and sweet story about a girl dealing with the grief of losing her father and her healing journey as she finds what she is passionate about. Freya June Sun is a thirteen-year old eighth-grader who was raised to believe in the Chinese superstitions, yet ever since her father died a year ago she has become obsessed with them, constantly looking for signs believing that her father is sending her a message from beyond. Freya is caught between her father's love and belief that she would be a great violist and her strong dislike of the instrument. When she is partnered with Gus Choi, a goofy guy who keeps accidentally spilling stuff on her, for a cooking class she discovers that she has found an interest in baking. Now she is caught between the upcoming music competition and the baking competition. She does not want to disappoint her dad yet the viola is making her miserable, yet baking has opened up a new passion in her... Freya must decide what she wants to do with her future and who she wants to be. This was a very touching story about grief and healing, Freya is struggling between trying to do what she thinks will not disappoint her dad and something that she has just become passionate about. She's growing and healing, dealing with family drama, grief, and growing. It was a really well done story and I loved getting to see Freya grow into her own person and see her find what makes her happy. I would absolutely recommend this book!
*Thanks Netgalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review*