WELCOME BACK, MAPLE MEHTA-COHEN, by Kate McGovern, Candlewick, Oct. 12, 2021, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 9-12)
A girl who struggles with reading must repeat the fifth grade in Kate McGovern’s debut middle-grade novel, Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen.
Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a secret: she can’t read all that well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder — especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like Maple herself — but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her.
Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher is on to her, and now Maple has to repeat fifth grade. Maple is devastated — what will her friends think? Will they forget about her?
She uses her storytelling skills to convince her classmates that she’s staying back as a special teacher’s assistant (because of budget cuts, you know). But as Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself — and her brain — just the way she is? —Synopsis provided by Candlewick
I expected to like Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen, but I didn’t expect to be charmed by it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be held back in school, especially at Maple’s age. The social implications alone could be devastating. Being held back by a learning disability would be equally as challenging.
Maple is a clever, creative and independent thinker. Her ability to keep people in the dark about her reading struggles shows how bright she is. And I love that even though she doesn’t like reading, she loves stories. She loves literature. She loves the journey.
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen speaks to readers who have faced their own trials, whether in school, with friends or something else. We all know what it’s like to hide some part of ourselves that we don’t want others to find out.
I thoroughly enjoyed Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen. Author Kate McGovern’s writing is clear and welcoming. She’s got an excellent balance of tones, making the overall experience one that you want to return to.