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From award-winning YA author Leah Johnson comes her magical middle grade debut: a laugh-until-you-cry, cry-until-you-laugh story about an ordinary girl whose life is turned upside down by some extraordinary powers.
Ellie Engle doesn’t stand out. Not at home, where she's alone with her pet fish since her dad moved away and her mom has to work around the clock . Not at the bakery, where she helps out old Mr. Walker on the weekends. And definitely not at school, where her best friend Abby—the coolest, boldest, most talented girl in the world—drags Ellie along on her never-ending quest to “make her mark.” To someone else, a life in the shadows might seem boring, or lonely. But not to Ellie. As long as she has Abby by her side and a comic book in her hand, she’s quite content.
Too bad life didn’t bother checking in with Ellie. Because when a freak earthquake hits her small town, Ellie wakes up with fantastical powers that allow her to bring anything back to life with just her touch. And when a video of her using her powers suddenly goes viral, Ellie’s life goes somewhere she never imagined—or wanted: straight into the spotlight.
Surviving middle school is hard enough. Surviving middle school when paparazzi are camped out on your front lawn and an international pop singer wants you to use your powers on live tv and you might be in love with your best friend but she doesn’t know it? Absolutely impossible.
About the Author
Leah Johnson always wanted to be a superhero, but she became a writer instead, which she thinks is the next-best thing. Her best-selling debut novel, You Should See Me in a Crown, was a Stonewall Honor Book, the inaugural Reese’s Book Club YA Pick, and named one of Time’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Leah lives in Indianapolis, where she writes books about Black girls with big hearts, plays fetch with the best dog in the world, and talks about Miles Morales to anyone who will listen. Ellie Engle Saves Herself is her middle grade debut. You can find Leah online at ByLeahJohnson.com and on Instagram and Twitter @ByLeahJohnson.
*starred review* Comic book enthusiast Ellie Engle, who is Black, sees herself as the epitome of ordinary, and she’s content to dwell in the pressure-free shadow of her outgoing Latina best friend, Abby Ortega. But after an earthquake strikes Plainsboro, Ind., the day the girls start junior high, Ellie realizes she has a crush on Abby, and she also somehow manages to resurrect her own dead pet fish. Slowly, Ellie discovers that she can bring living organisms back to life, for a cost. Ellie, who sometimes experiences panic attacks, doesn’t want to cause trouble for her hardworking single mom, and she worries about how the powers of the supers in her comics affect their loved ones. But when popularity-intent Abby pressures Ellie to mask and even reverse her powers, Ellie is reluctant to let them go—even as knowledge of her abilities goes viral, leaving her no choice but to stand on her own two feet. Marrying her customary openhearted style with a necromancy-oriented origin story, Johnson (You Should See Me in a Crown) tackles the pains of growing up—changing bodies, shifting bonds, early crushes, and defining oneself on one’s own terms—making for a warmly rendered, lightly speculative love story about a girl learning to believe that she’s anything but ordinary. Ages 8–12. Agent: Patrice Caldwell, New Leaf Literary. (May)- PW (Mar 16, 2023)
*starred review* A seventh grader doing her best to navigate middle school, a secret crush, and new family dynamics wakes up with a life-altering superpower. Elliot “Ellie” Engle, a 12-year-old Black girl, has always been fine fading into the background with her comic books. Best friend Abby Ortega, who is cued as Latine, always seems to have the spotlight. Following an earthquake during a sleepover at Abby’s house, Ellie wakes up feeling weird. She returns home to find her beloved pet, Burt the Betta Fish, has died. While giving his eulogy, Ellie touches Burt, and, to her disbelief, he bounces back to life. Superhero-loving Ellie’s first thought is to keep her new abilities a secret or risk being shipped off to some institution like the X-Men’s Xavier Institute. But she tells Abby—incidentally her crush and therefore the object of her other big secret. Together, they attempt to test her powers, until an unfortunate incident on frog dissection day in science class throws Ellie’s life into a tailspin. Ellie must come to terms with hard truths, but along the way she learns she doesn’t have to live her life in the shadow of others and that true friends will support you through everything. This fast-paced, humorous novel will have readers racing to the end as they fall in love with Ellie’s quirky and authentic personality. Johnson deftly explores identity and responsibility to ourselves and others in this joyful coming-of-age story. Marvelous. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)- Kirkus (Apr 1, 2023)
*starred review* At first, Ellie Engle’s world is relatively simple. She is an avid comic book fan, and she has one friend, Abby, who is bold, fashionable, and, unlike Ellie, constantly in the spotlight. Ellie is fine with the simplicity of her life, and in fact, she prefers it. When an earthquake shakes her town for the first time in decades, it also shakes up Ellie's life: she's surprised to find that she wakes up with the power to bring dead things back to life. Ellie is immediately overwhelmed with her new powers. She was already beginning to struggle with the prospect of starting junior high, her developing feelings for her best friend, and the stress of helping her single mom, who is barely making ends meet. Now, she finds herself having to come to terms with the reality of being a bona fide superhero—and the spotlight, which she never wanted, that comes with it. This delightful, magical middle-grade debut from young adult author Johnson (Rise to the Sun, 2021) excellently harnesses the anxiety that is prevalent throughout the junior-high years. Ellie’s magic serves as a metaphor that carves out a space for uncovering and awakening her identity as a young queer Black girl. Strongly recommended for all collections. — Nashae Jones- Booklist (Feb 15, 2023)