Title: How to Become a Planet
Author: Nicole Melleby
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 288
Pluto (yes, her name is actually Pluto, thanks to her mom’s avid interest in astronomy) is a twelve-year-old girl with severe depression and anxiety. She spends days in bed and her mom has to hire a tutor to help her make up a large portion of her schoolwork so she can get into the 8th grade.
Like her mom, Pluto is obsessed with astronomy and wishes she could be sucked into a black hole, where at least it would be quiet and she wouldn’t be in pain anymore. Pluto’s mom has to hire a new woman to work at their family business, a pizzeria, because Pluto’s mental health issues are so much work.
Her dad wants her to live with him and Pluto makes herself a list of goals to prove she’s getting better and can stay with her mom. Meanwhile, she’s developing a crush on Fallon, a gender-nonconforming girl whose family owns a business near the pizzeria. This book has a very accurate depiction of clinical depression, possibly one of the best I’ve read in anything (not just MG.)
The physical aspects- the lethargy, the aches and pains- are especially handled well. It might be my personal issues/resentment over my own mental problems and my mom’s depression, but I found it pretty hard to like Pluto at times. I know her illness was getting her down (and she was just a kid,) but she treated the people in her life so badly when they were trying so hard to help her and be there for her.
She went off on her mom. She went off on her friend Meredith. She went off on Fallon. She went off on her tutor, Mrs. McAuliffe. She spends a week at her dad’s where he’s hardly even present and when she gets back she’s all like I HATE YOU! I WANT TO GO LIVE WITH DAD! Like, seriously, girl.
Her dad was weird. He seemed like he wanted a Dungeons & Dragons partner more than he wanted a daughter. I liked how her mom was a flawed parent but was trying her best, she felt very believable to me. Their mother-daughter relationship had a lot of tenderness and a strong sense of authenticity. It reminded me of me and my mom a little bit.
This book had an unusual absence of bullying and homophobia (the former usually being a mainstay in middle grade fiction.) Everyone is basically kind and Pluto’s main struggle is her battle against herself. It sucks to feel you’re a burden and are making other people miserable but be too worn-down and helpless to do anything about it.
Sometimes you DO get mad at the people who are trying to help you. Pluto put an awful lot of fault on other people, though. I liked that she was such a realistically flawed character even though the girl drove me crazy sometimes. This is a observant and powerfully written book about depression by an author who seems to understand a lot about the illness. I want to read all of this author’s books ASAP.