Misfit Tally is forced to room with queen bee Ava on the seventh grade field trip to Washington, DC, and discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder—in this timely new novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal.
During a class trip to DC, twelve-year-old Tally and her best friends, Sonnet and Caleb (a.k.a. Spider) are less than thrilled when they are assigned roommates and are paired with kids who are essentially their sworn enemies. For Tally, rooming with “clonegirl” Ava Seely feels like punishment, rather than potential for fun.
But the trip is full of surprises. Despite a pact to stick together as much as they can, Sonnet pulls away, and spider befriends Marco, the boy who tormented him last year. And Marco just might “like” Tally—what’s that about?
But the uneasy peace in Ava and Tally’s room is quickly upended when Tally begins to suspect something is off about Ava. She has a weird notebook full of random numbers, and doesn’t seem to eat anything during meals. When Tally confronts Ava, Ava threatens to share an embarrassing picture of Tally with the class if Tally says anything to anyone about her suspicions. But will Tally endanger more than her pride by keeping her secret?
This is one class trip full of lessons Tally will never forget: how to stay true to yourself, how to love yourself and embrace your flaws, and how being a good friend can actually mean telling a secret you promised to keep…
Everything I Know About You Boxes WE GOT TO SCHOOL IN the dark that morning, already fifteen minutes late.
By then, cars were headed in the opposite direction, doggy heads hanging out the passenger windows, horns honking good-bye. Ms. Jordan was standing by the fancy bus, wearing jeans (she owned jeans?), checking her clipboard. She looked up; now I could see she was talking to Ava Seeley and her mom, a blond woman dressed head to toe in beige, like she was about to go on a safari.
Suddenly I had the feeling Ava was glaring at me. I mean, my brain told me she wasn’t; we were maybe thirty feet away from her, in a car, and probably she couldn’t even see me through the windshield. But she was the head clonegirl of our grade, basically my enemy, so I was always on the lookout for her nasty expressions.
“Gug,” I said, my stomach knotting.
“Tally, don’t decide this will be bad before anything happens,” Mom said.
“Yeah, well. Too late.”
“Come on, honey, you got this.” Mom gave me a pep smile, which usually worked. Although not this time. “Just share the goodies Dad baked you; that’ll help with the bus trip. Oh, and here’s a present from me.”
She handed me a small sandwich bag. Inside were two red things that looked like cap erasers.
“Earplugs,” Mom explained. “For the bus. And the room, if Ava’s a snorer.”
“If she is, she couldn’t be louder than Spike.” My dog was a champion loud breather, so I was an expert at ignoring snores. Obviously, Mom meant the earplugs for more than snoring.
I stuck the bag in my pants pocket and threw my arms around her. “Thanks, Mom.”
She smooched my cheek. “You’re welcome, Daughter. Text me when you get there, okay? Tell Spider to text his mom too. And let me help with the bakery boxes.”
We stepped out of the car into the sharp, chilly air. It didn’t even feel like September, really—although maybe that was because it still seemed liked night. Maybe once we were on the road, and the sun was up, it would feel like a normal fall morning in Eastview.
But not yet. I shivered.
Mom carried two of the boxes, and I carried one, plus my duffel bag. The bus had this huge underneath storage compartment, but by now it was completely crammed with everyone’s stuff for the next four days. So we had to wedge my duffel in sideways, probably squishing all the extra cookies Dad had packed.
Then we walked over to Ms. Jordan.
“Good morning, Tally!” Ms. Jordan greeted me too energetically, as if she’d had an extra cup of coffee for breakfast. “I was starting to worry you wouldn’t make it. You’re Mrs. Martin?” she asked Mom.
Mom caught my eye. Because I’m so much bigger and taller than the rest of my family, people say stuff like this sometimes. Maybe Ms. Jordan didn’t mean it as an actual question—Are you really Tally’s mom?—but it was hard to tell.
“Yes, I am,” Mom said, smiling at everyone. Even at Ava, who didn’t bother to smile back.
But Ms. Jordan did. “Quite a daughter you have there. Full of character.”
Mom nodded. You could tell she was trying to figure out whether that was a compliment.
Meanwhile, Ava’s mom was reaching out her hand to shake Mom’s, completely ignoring the fact that Mom was holding two bulging bakery boxes. “Good morning. I’m Ellen Seeley,” she announced. “I’m the parent chaperone for this trip.”
The parent chaperone? But there were three other parents going, I was sure of it.
“Oh yes,” Mom said pleasantly. “We’ve already met, Ellen. How nice of you to volunteer! Tally, could I please give you these boxes? The car is in a no-parking zone, so I really can’t stay.” Her eyes were begging; she obviously wanted to escape Ellen Seeley.
“Sure,” I said, stacking Mom’s boxes on top of mine. “You’d better hurry, so you don’t get a ticket.”
Mom tiptoed to kiss my cheek. “Have fun, sweetheart, and remember those earplugs,” she murmured. “Tune out whatever you need to, okay? And don’t forget to text.” Then she raced off.
Mrs. Seeley turned to talk to Ms. Jordan, as Ava narrowed her eyes at me. “So what’s in the boxes?” Ava asked.
“Oh, these?” I said. “Binoculars. Pickaxes. Flashlights. You know, assorted extremely high-tech devices for exploring our nation’s capital.”
“Huh,” Ava said. She never appreciated my sense of humor. “It looks like bakery stuff.”
“We’re allowed to bring snacks,” I informed her. “Not that I am.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means bring whatever you want, Tally. However much you want. I really don’t care what you do, all right?”
“That’s so funny, Ava,” I replied. “Because you always act like exactly the opposite.”
Now Ava definitely was glaring, and I glared right back at her. She was teeny, maybe ten inches shorter than me, so I had to stoop a bit to make eye contact. But it’s hard to stoop while balancing three bakery boxes, so I sort of teetered in her direction.
Finally she said, “Well, you’d better get a seat. You’re late, and we’re about to leave.”
And we know you’d hate to leave me behind, wouldn’t you, Ava?
I climbed on board, my heart banging so loudly I was sure you could hear it over the bus engine.
Because here it was. We’d now arrived at the moment I’d been dreading for the past two weeks.
The moment I’d find out if my friends had shown up.
Or if I’d have to do this thing—all three days and four nights—stuck in a room alone with Ava Seeley.
Talia “Tally” Martin knows her upcoming class trip to Washington, DC, is going to be a nightmare. To foster seventh-grade unity, the teachers have assigned Tally and her best friends to share hotel rooms with their enemies! But the three-day trip is full of surprises. Alliances are made and broken, and Tally begins to suspect something is off with her “perfect” roommate Ava, who keeps a weird notebook full of random numbers, disappears regularly, and doesn’t seem to be eating anything during meals. Tally needs to decide what to do with her suspicions about Ava while also dealing with changing friendships and finding ways to express her offbeat personality. This is a trip full of lessons that Tally won’t forget, including how to love yourself and embrace your flaws, and how being a good friend can mean telling a secret you promised to keep.
1. Why do you think Ava is obsessed with how she looks? Why does she expect too much from herself, not just where calories are concerned? Is it because of the fashion magazines she reads? Is it because of her relationship with her mother? Tally wonders if it must be hard to be Ava, “so careful and perfect.” Do you agree? Can people have different definitions for perfection? Do you think perfection can have positive and negative connotations?
2. Tally remembers a time in fifth grade where she overheard her mother and a friend talking about her body. She says: “That was the first time I’d thought about my ‘body type.’” Do you think Tally is unusual in that she doesn’t seem to worry very much about this issue? Why do you think many girls do focus on this? Do you know any boys who have struggled with their body images?
3. Discuss the complicated connection that develops between Tally and Ava after Tally confronts Ava about her eating problems, and Ava threatens to share Tally’s embarrassing photo with their classmates. Why is Tally mad at herself for being worried about Ava? Why do you think she lies to Ava’s mother to protect Ava? Why does Ava feel she has to protect her own secret at any cost? What did you expect would happen if either secret were made public?
4. Why is Tally so happy when she sees Spider and Sonnet on the bus to Washington DC? Does having friends beside you make things easier? Look around at your classmates: How many of them do you know? How many have you talked to about their families, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes? How might you learn more about them?
5. Tally says, “My family took care of me, and I took care of Caleb; the world just made sense to me that way. The thing was, I always knew I was adopted, so I always had this idea that love was choosing to take care of someone—not just family, but friends too.” Describe Tally’s home life and her relationship with her family. How does she feel about being adopted? How can you tell?
6. Talk about Tally’s feelings when Sonnet starts to hang around with the “clonegirls.” How do Sonnet and Tally see the group differently? Do you understand why Tally views them as the enemy? Do you understand why Sonnet wants to be included? Do you think it’s okay to want to make new friends, even when you already have great friends? Do you think you and your friends can remain close, even if you don’t have as much in common as you used to? What have you learned from Tally, Spider, and Sonnet’s friendship?
7. Ms. Jordan tells Tally that she is a strong individual. Do you agree or disagree with Ms. Jordan’s analysis? Can you name scenes from the book where the author demonstrates Tally’s uniqueness? Is Tally’s originality something you admire? Name some of the ways Tally is different from her friends and classmates. How can being different feel like a detriment? How can it feel like an asset? Why might you see yourself differently than someone else sees you?
8. Tally tells Ava: “‘I love how I look! I think I’m beautiful and unique, and I’m really proud I’m so big and strong. I also think there’s a lot more to me than how I look.’” Can you name other instances in the story where she declares this or behaves in a way that shows she believes this? Can you find any scenes where her actions contradict this statement? For example, if she doesn’t care at all what people think, why does she hesitate to tell Ava’s secret, even if it means that the embarrassing photo becomes public?
9. Tally admits to herself that one of the reasons why she dressed oddly was because she “was kind of daring them to laugh.” Ava tells her, “‘You should care what people think about you. It’s immature not to, you know?’” Which girl do you most agree with? Is it better not to care, or is that an immature way of thinking? Can you share your reasons?
10. Tally says that Ava “never appreciated my sense of humor.” In fact, Ava thinks that Tally always wants “to turn everything into a fight.” What do you think is happening here? Is Tally funny? Is her sense of humor genuine, or is it hiding something? If you agree that Tally is looking for a fight, what do you think her reasons are? If you fight someone to protect a friend, like Tally does for Spider, does that make it okay?
11. Have you ever had an adult offer you what they thought were helpful hints, like when Mrs. Seeley suggests Tally might want to think about her diet and add some new outfits to her wardrobe? Mrs. Seeley says, “‘Women need to look their best if they want to succeed.’” Why might Mrs. Seeley have believed Tally needed her advice? Can one person’s lifestyle choices not be the right fit for someone else? Tally thinks Ava often sounds like her mom and wonders if she sounds like her own mom. What traits/behaviors might you have picked up from your parents or caregivers? Are they good traits, bad traits, or both?
12. When Tally is dreading boarding the bus to Washington, her mom tells her, “‘Don’t decide this will be bad before anything happens.’” Why do you think Tally has such a pessimistic attitude toward the trip? Is this surprising to you, especially since she tells Caleb he should adopt the name Spider and “‘to stop being a negative, just turn it into a positive’”? Overall, does Tally come across as a positive or a negative person? How about you? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Where do you think that trait comes from?
13. What do you think about Tally and Spider’s friendship? Is it an equal partnership? Give some examples that explain your answer. Why does she feel so responsible for what happens to him? Why does she have such a hard time understanding that he might want to make new friends and try new things? Why can caring for someone also mean letting them go? Does the fact that Spider is a boy and Tally is a girl explain any of their recent disagreements? Can boys and girls be friends?
14. On the trip, former bully Marco is friendly to both Tally and Spider. In your opinion, can bullies change? Do they deserve a second chance, as Ms. Jordan says? Should they be forgiven if they show new behavior?
15. Tally says Spider “basically [would] become invisible, and that’s not the worst thing, if you’ve been bullied.” Do you agree with this statement? What do you think are positive things about flying below the radar? Does it feel safer? Can you list some reasons why you think it’s not a good thing to be invisible?
16. How did you feel about Tally and her friends’ decision to spy on their roommate enemies? Is it natural to be curious and want to know the juicy details about other people’s lives? Given Ava’s big secret, is it always wrong to invade someone’s privacy? How would you feel if you caught someone snooping through your things?
17. Discuss the issues of choice and responsibility when it comes to Tally telling on Ava. Do you think that after Tally discovers Ava’s secret but doesn’t tell, that she then becomes responsible for Ava? How much responsibility do we have for helping others against their wishes? Do you sympathize with how difficult it is to make a choice that’s not popular, like telling someone’s secret? How might you handle a choice like that?
18. Is it “crazy to worry about someone who hates you,” as Tally wonders? Is it ever a bad thing to take care of someone else? Give some examples from the book that might support your answer. Are you a caretaker like Tally? Do you feel that gives you the right to tell other people what to do?
1. Write a letter to the editor of a fashion magazine asking them to include models with more realistic body types. Give them your reasons for asking.
2. Choose a website from the resources listed below or from the list included in the book. After reading through the information there, create an activity that your class can do together that would educate everyone about eating disorders. For example, create a list of facts about eating disorders and treatment that your classmates must answer as True or False, or ask your classmates to help you role-play a conversation between two friends or a parent and child, one who is struggling with an eating disorder.
3. Write an opinion essay explaining what you admired about Tally and what might have frustrated you about her, and what you might have done similarly or differently if you were in her situation. Include specific examples from the book to support your thoughts.
4. Design and draw a poster that includes the warning signs of an eating disorder, and post it in your classroom to help raise awareness.
5. Choose one of your friends and classmates, and make a “What I Like About You” poster. Then make a “What I Like About Me” poster!
6. As Ms. Jordan says to Tally, “‘Words are powerful tools.’” Use your powerful words to write a letter to an imaginary friend with an eating disorder, persuading them to get help.
The following websites, and those included by the author in the book, will help you learn more about recognizing and preventing eating disorders:
Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
It's time for the seventh-grade trip to Washington, D.C.! In an effort to promote "class unity," the optimistic (clueless?) teachers have determined the rooming assignments, and Tally Martin isn't looking forward to three nights with her enemy, the perfect, popular Ava Seeley. Tally's also angry on behalf of her two best friends, who are also in less-than-ideal rooming situations with their respective former bullies. Well-meaning Tally wants to protect Sonnet and Spider from their tormentors. However, the boisterous, eclectically dressed Tally, who has always been her friends' protector, must face the fact that she must let them fight their own battles or risk losing them. But when she discovers that Ava has become "emaciated," skips meals, and exercises obsessively, she must decide if this is a situation she should put her nose in. Flippant and outgoing Tally is "tan," adopted, and bigger than her classmates—not just taller, but she also has a "squishy belly" and a "big butt" she loves; she sees her fatness as a biological inheritance, just one part of who she is. Her passionate impulse to protect her friends is immediately sympathetic, as is her growing understanding of both herself and her classmates. Diversity among Tally's classmates is implied by naming convention (Sonnet has a Japanese surname, for example) and occasionally called out. Others, including Spider, are white by default. A poignant and often hilarious slice of middle-grade life. (eating disorder resources) (Fiction. 10-14)
– Kirkus, 4/1/18
Seventh grader Tally Martin has a strong sense of self and celebrates what makes her unique. She is adopted and has close relationships with her supportive family; she describes herself as large and shows great confidence and body positivity; she has a quirky fashion sense and doesn’t much care what others think of her—especially the “clonegirls” at school. Unfortunately, Tally is stuck rooming with head “clonegirl” Ava during a field trip to Washington, D.C. Determined to use the trip as an opportunity to learn more about Ava, Tally soon begins to notice some worrisome behaviors indicative of an eating disorder. Unsure of the best way to help Ava, Tally struggles with whether to tell someone what’s going on, especially when Ava threatens to post an embarrassing photo of Tally online if she doesn’t keep Ava’s secrets. Eventually, Tally comes forward with what she knows, and Ava begins treatment for anorexia. Dee’s acknowledgments briefly touch on her own personal experience with disordered eating, and back matter includes additional resources for those seeking help or further information. Though other characters lack the same dimension, Tally is a refreshing middle grade character who is never defined unilaterally. Her efforts to navigate the complexities of adolescent friendships and ever-evolving social circles will resonate with readers. Ava’s struggle with anorexia is portrayed with care and makes an important subject accessible for a younger audience. VERDICT While perhaps tied up a little too neatly, the author succeeds in weaving together threads of self-acceptance, individuality, what it means to be a friend, and even responsible Internet use. A strong addition to library collections.
– School Library Journal, April 1, 2018
Seventh grader Tally is many things: fiercely protective of her best friends, Spider and Sonnet; adopted (and proud of it); outspoken; confident; and very good at math. One thing she’s not is a “clonegirl,” like her nemesis, Ava, whose look comes straight from a fashion magazine. Instead, Tally dons funky glasses and outsize jewelry to show that she is an individual, not part of the pack. When their class goes to Washington, D.C., Tally is dismayed to learn that her roommate is Ava; Spider’s is Marco, the boy who bullied him last year; and Sonnet’s with Haley, one of the clonegirls. Tally vows to stick with her friends and protect them both from potential teasing, but once in D.C., things shift, leaving Tally unsure of her role for the first time and forcing her to reconsider Ava. Dee (Star-Crossed) sensitively portrays Tally’s fears about being left behind as friends change, as well as the signs and impact of the anorexia Ava is hiding. Readers will root for big-hearted Tally, whose willingness to speak her truth makes for honest and engaging narration.
– Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2018
Seventh-grader Tally has an eccentric fashion sense and a disdain for what she calls “clonegirls”; she’s content to hang out with her two best friends Sonnet and Spider, both of whom she feels she’s rescued. She’s outraged when her teachers make roommate assignments for a field trip that will separate the friends and leave Spider with some long-ago bullies, even though Spider himself thinks she’s not allowing for the possibility that the kids have changed. While it is predictable that Tally is in for an attitude-adjusting lesson or two, the didacticism is tempered by Tally’s lively and often humorous voice and the fact that she has as much to learn about her own flaws as she does about compassion for others. Sonnet and Spider confront her with their need for space away from her cloying protection, and Ava, her roommate, suggests that Tally’s fashion statements are more camouflage than breezy flair, forcing Tally to realize that she is being meaner toward the clonegirls than they are to her. More importantly, she is faced with an ethical dilemma when she realizes that Ava has an eating disorder—tell someone and risk Ava’s wrath in the form of public humiliation, or keep it to herself and risk Ava’s health? Tally is a proudly tall, independent protagonist who nonetheless has to learn that she is still somewhat responsible for other people’s perceptions of her and that she needs to make some adjustments to allow other people, as well as herself, space to change and grow.
– BCCB, June 2018
Worst. Class. Trip. Ever. At least, that’s what Tally thinks as she boards a bus for her seventh-grade trip to Washington, D.C., since she’s forced to room with her nemesis, Ava Seely. They are complete opposites: Tally is tall, big, self-assured, and dresses creatively, while Ava is petite, perfectly groomed, and, as Tally discovers, tightly wound. Furthermore, her best friends, Sonnet and Spider (real name Caleb), are also rooming with “enemies,” but, to Tally’s surprise, they seem to like their roommates. Then Tally starts warming up to Ava, discovering an unsettling secret: Ava is anorexic. Ava doesn’t want Tally’s help, even threatening to share a terrible picture of her with the class if Tally tells anyone. Tally is torn between getting help for Ava and self-preservation, and she wonders whether it’s any of her business anyway. Tally’s transformation and insights in her first-person narrative ring true, as does the rest of the novel: she’s surrounded with complex, interesting characters in a realistic plot that nicely captures middle-school experiences and friendships. — Donna Scanlon