Review posted June 29, 2022.
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 313 pages.
Review written June 10, 2022, from my own copy, sent by the publisher
Kyle Lukoff won the Stonewall Award and Newbery Honor with his last book, Too Bright to See. Different Kinds of Fruit is another book exploring issues about gender in the lives of kids, and it does it with a happy and engaging story.
Annabelle has gone to school at the Lab all her life, so when they get a new teacher and a new student on the first day of sixth grade, she knows it's going to be a different year than what she expected.
The new kid is named Bailey and explains that they are nonbinary and use they/them pronouns. But when Annabelle tells her parents, she's surprised by her father's reaction. Making friends with Bailey opens up discussion in her family and she learns family secrets that had been hidden from her.
Meanwhile, the new teacher gets the class excited about the topics they can explore -- until one parent reports them and the principal squelches their plans. Can the kids find a way to stand up for what they want to learn?
The story doesn't feel like an issue book, even though issues, very timely ones, do come up. I like the portrayal of Annabelle's growing friendship with Bailey and Annabelle's questions about herself when she realizes she's got a crush on Bailey.
The characters in this book are interesting people, with lots more depth than the way they might be categorized by gender or whom they're attracted to.
For example, when Annabelle goes over to Bailey's house, she's interested in some posters on her walls.
I was curious about the plant poster, and walked over to examine it more closely. "What is this?" I asked. "A flowchart or something?"
"Oh! There's a whole series of these. Each poster is about a different taxonomy. Taxonomy is, like, groups of things, and how they're organized. This one is about different kinds of fruit."
I peered at it. Cucumbers and pumpkins and eggplants and avocados, all connected by lines and arrows. "Uh, no it's not?" I said. "I mean, yeah, those are fruit up there" -- I pointed to the top, where there were apples and oranges and bananas -- "but the rest of these are vegetables! And those helicopter seeds aren't fruits either."
Bailey grinned wickedly. "I have news for you, my binary friend!" They dropped teir voice like they were about to utter a revealing truth of the universe. "There is no. Such. Thing. As a vegetable."
I squinted at the chart, and then at them, and then back at the chart. "Yes there is! What are carrots, then? I don't see those here."
"Carrots are roots."
"Artichokes? I mean, they're gross, but those are definitely vegetables."
"Wrong on both counts! Artichokes are delicious and flowers."
"Yup. Broccoli and cauliflower and figs are all flowers too. 'Vegetable' is a made-up category."
That didn't make any sense. "If vegetables are made up, then why aren't fruits?"
"Because they're not!" Bailey looked triumphant, like this was a hill they would gladly die on. "'Fruit' is a job. It describes the part of the plant that distributes the seeds. Apples and oranges are fruits because they have seeds. So are pumpkins and cucumbers! And tomatoes. And those helicopter seeds. And berries. As a matter of fact, everything I named is a type of berry."
"But 'vegetable' isn't a job?" I wracked my brain to come up with something that all vegetables had in common, but I couldn't. Except that they're good for you.
"Nope! Leaves are a job and roots are a job and flowers are a job. 'Vegetable' is something people made up to sell salad mix.'"
This story has so much heart and is so much fun. On top of that, it gets you thinking about different kinds of people and what they all have in common. A joyful story that explores gender roles and the fakeness of vegetables.