Z lives in a fantasy world of chivalric knights and ladies, and Ella is happy to join him in it. Together, they are Sir Zachariah and Lady Eleanor, playing chess after school and ignoring the rest of the world until the teachers kick them out. Ella wishes Z weren’t so weird all the time, but he has always been her best friend, and now he is her only friend. It started with the popular kids making fun of Ella’s face, since her skin is several different tones of brown and tan. Jonathan calls her “Camo Face,” and his friends all laugh. Even the kids who don’t laugh ignore Ella because she hangs out with Z. But when Bailey James moves in, Ella knows immediately that her life is going to change. First, Bailey is black—the first black student to join Ella in their class. And he is not at all amused by Jonathan’s bullying nicknames for Ella. Bailey befriends Ella immediately and encourages her to spend more time with him and the popular crew, but Ella’s chance for a new start comes at a price. As she spends less time with Z, he begins to sink deeper into his fantasies, and Ella fears she may have broken their friendship—or worse, broken Z.
Author of The Rock and the River, Kekla Magoon has written another engaging novel exploring the issues related to race, identity, friendship, and family. Ella’s struggle to accept herself and navigate the sixth grade shift in social structures will be familiar to most readers, and her story of overcoming bullying and finding acceptance may be inspiring to readers who are experiencing bullying themselves. Her story may resonate particularly strongly with biracial readers and all readers who have experienced racial prejudice. I highly recommend this book to middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction.