Dear Sweet Pea – Julie Murphy – Balzer+Bray – Published 1 October 2019
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.
Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.
What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Dear Sweet Pea is the middle-grade debut from successful YA author Julie Murphy. Dear Sweet Pea is a delightful story about growing up, figuring your way through friendships, facing challenging family changes like divorce and the coming out of a parent, and finding your voice in the progression from middle school to high school.
When Sweet Pea’s parents announce their divorce and promise her nothing will change she didn’t expect them to set up nearly identical houses for her on the same street. The only thing between them is the house of Miss Flora Mae, who writes the local advice columns. When Miss Flora Mae goes away on a trip, she asks Sweet Pea to forward her letters to her, but Sweet Pea is drawn to the mystery of the letters and finds herself opening and responding to them herself.
Dear Sweet Pea is about growing up and all the challenges of life in that confusing transition from middle school to high school. I know readers in that bracket will relate to Sweet Pea’s story, especially as she is faced with common situations, such as parents divorcing and the fallings in and out of friendships.
Dear Sweet Pea is full of diverse characters, both the adults and children, including ethnicity, size, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientation. Sweet Pea is fat, but that is just another facet of her character and aside from a few mentions, isn’t the focus of this book. In one section in the book, Sweet Pea is describing her classmates, using basic physical characteristics, including the colour of their skin. Careful attention has been made to ensure white people are described in the same way as black or brown, and this will hopefully spark important discussion about the representation of diversity.
As Sweet Pea reads the letters about the troubles of her community, she must navigates the changes in her life and figures out to be a good friend – any maybe even learn to take her own advice.
Complete with a cat named Cheese, plenty of situations gone awry that Sweet Pea must try to fix, and enough embarrassing situations to make older readers glad that middle-school is far behind them, Dear Sweet Pea is a fun and endearing novel.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Children’s fiction, Middle-grade fiction.
Themes: Family, divorce, friendship, middle school, advice columns, LGBT.
Reading age guide: Ages 10 to 13. (Publishers suggest ages 8 and up, but I believe this book is more suited to those in the upper year levels of middle-school).
Advisory: References to relationship breakdown and divorce.
Published: 1 October 2019 by Balzer+Bray
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook. 288 pages.