Naked Mole Rat Saves the World by Karen Rivers

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. It will be released October 15, 2019, by Algonquin Young Readers.

kit, deliberately spelled with a lower case k, for numerous reasons, lives with her agoraphobic mother. K.I.T. stands for keep it together, her mother’s mantra before kit was born. When kit arrived her mom thought she was too tiny for a capital letter. Her mom was once a famous singer, but her mental illness has become so debilitating that kit has to take care of everything to do with life outside their apartment complex. To add to this, kit has alopecia universalis. This means she has no hair anywhere on her body and is often mistaken for a cancer patient. It’s already a lot for a young person to deal with.

The book begins with kit watching her best friend, Clem, and her acrobatic family on a reality TV show, where they hope to win the most talented family in America prize. When Clem falls and is injured, kit becomes so stressed that she transforms into a naked mole rat.

Clem ends up spending a lot of time in the hospital before she can return home.

A year later, we discover that both of the girls are changed from this experience. Clem deals with her trauma by transforming into an angry goth girl. kit’s anxiety, and her transformation, seems to have increased along with her mother’s agoraphobia.

Rivers takes us into the headspace of the two girls in alternating chapters through third person narrative. Since the accident they have been unable to share their most important secrets and this ends up creating unspoken conflict between them.

Before the book begins, Clem and kit were part of a tight group of friends that included Jorge, Clem’s twin brother, and Jackson, whose mom looked after kit when she was small. Something happened between Jackson and kit that created a division in the group. We don’t learn what this is until the book is well under way. Finding their way back to who they used to be means they all have to learn to listen to each other in new ways.

Karen Rivers has created a quirky, middle grade, coming of age novel. The friendship issues are authentic for the age group. I just needed to love these characters more than I did right from the start. I trust Rivers enough as an author to keep reading and eventually I came to care about them, but it wasn’t till I was well into the book. Then I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not sure younger readers will wait that long. My other quibble with the book is that although I ended up enjoying this, Rivers has given her characters a lot to deal with. It seems like too much to me.

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