VIOLETS ARE BLUE
By: Barbara Dee
Published: October 12, 2021
Wren (Renata) has had lots of changes lately. Her parents are divorced. Her dad is remarried with twins on the way and living in New York. Wren and her mom moved and she started a new school. Plus her mom is acting all weird, locking her doors and not being completely truthful. Wren escapes all the chaos by becoming absorbed in the Cat FX special effects makeup videos. She can spend hours watching Cat FX recreate mermaids and other fantasy characters with just makeup.
As Wren starts to meet some friends in her new school, she begins to share a bit of herself, including her fascination with makeup. When Poppy convinces her to help with the makeup for the middle school musical, Wicked, she wonders if she is out of her league. But, Poppy’s excitement and her mom’s weird behavior convince her to dive right in. Then there is Kai, part of the crew, that appears to have a crush on her. It can be a lot for a seventh-grader to manage.
Wren is a character a lot of kids will be able to identify with. Her home life is far from perfect. She feels like she has to keep secrets between her parents so neither one feels jealous or gets mad. She is trying to manage adjusting to a new school, new friends, and her mom’s weird behaviors all while keeping up with her grades and taking on the new role of makeup artist for the musical. It can be overwhelming and I think a lot of middle-school readers will be able to relate to her story.
“I guess sometimes when you are stuck in the middle of something, you stop seeing it the way it really is. Or you focus on one tiny detail, but you don’t see the whole big picture.”Wren, VIOLETS ARE BLUE by Barbara Dee
As a mom reading this, I was extremely frustrated with Wren’s mom and her secretive behavior. It isn’t until nearly the end of the book that we find out what is really going on with Wren’s mom. I had my suspicions and was wishing Wren would be a little bolder in holding her mom accountable. But I thought the way the author had Wren handle it was mature and fit well with the person Wren was becoming by the end of the novel. I liked seeing Wren be more engaged and self-confident as the story moved on. She steps out of her shell a bit, is more proud of her abilities, and is willing to share them rather than hide them.
Barbara Dee handles some pretty tough topics all in one story including divorce, moving, teen crushes, bullying, and substance abuse. But she handles them delicately and with respect to how a teenager would think and feel about them. Being confused, ashamed, hurt, and misunderstood are all real feelings and she speaks from a teen’s mindset quite well. I also think the cover is gorgeous and relates to the one makeup trick that Wren can’t seem to perfect, the mermaid look.
Even though this story has a lot of tough topics, middle-grade readers will be able to find something to relate to with Wren and her friends. The biggest lesson I found in the story, is one of forgiveness. Wren found that by forgiving her friends for teasing her, her mom for keeping secrets, and her parents for putting her in the middle, she could relax and appreciate all the new adventures ahead of her. Readers will be left with ideas for how to handle their own sticky conversations with friends or parents and maybe feel like they can be bold and speak up just like Wren did.
Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle-grade novels published by Simon & Schuster, including Violets Are Blue, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews, have been shortlisted for many state book awards, and have been named to best-of lists including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York. For more information, check out her website, HERE.