Recommended for ages 9-14
Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.
Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.
Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their differences.
It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:
“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”
Wow. Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.
“Did my birth mom love me?”
It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.
What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet
Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.