Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
It’s not just the premise that’s intriguing, though. I’ll tell you three other things I loved about this Young Adult novel:
(1) It deals with honest emotion about death and grieving and the courage to move on—emotions that readers of any age will be able to relate to.
(2) There’s a love story tied up with a mysterious bow, but the love story is not the whole story.
(3) The author uses email, social media, and instant messaging in a clever but realistic way.
When the story opens, it’s exactly “seven hundred and thirty-three days after my mom died, forty-five days after my dad eloped with a stranger on the Internet, thirty days after we then up and moved to California.” Sixteen-year-old Jessie gets an anonymous email from a guy who calls himself Somebody/Nobody, offering to help her find her way through her new school in California. Somebody/Nobody (Jessie calls him SN) is a fellow student at Wood Valley High School, a private school SN calls “a wasteland of mostly blond, vacant-eyed Barbies and Kens,” absolutely nothing like Jessie’s old school. On top of that, Jessie is figuring out how to cope with her new “step-monster” and a step-brother who will barely acknowledge her existence, all the while coming to terms with her newly-married dad who no longer seems to have time for her.
As Jessie struggles after the move, she misses being able to talk to her mom about things, and Buxbaum’s descriptions of Jessie’s grief are palpable:
“One of the worst things about someone dying is thinking back to all those times you didn’t ask the right questions, all those times you stupidly assumed you’d have all that time in the world. And this too: how all that time feels like something manufactured. The overexposed ghosts of memories.”
At her new school, Jessie feels like an outsider, afraid she may never make friends—let alone fit in. At first Jessie is skeptical that SN can help, but she reaches out to him after she’s bullied by some of the “Barbies.” SN guides her about selecting who to be friends with, about the landscape of the classes and teachers, about how to fit in and get by…but soon the two are talking more and more, on messenger…about everything. As they get to know one another, Jessie grows more curious about SN’s identity—is he Liam, the musician son of her new boss? Or maybe it’s her new step-brother? Or could it be crush-worthy Ethan, her English project partner?
Yet, despite Jessie’s questions to him, SN insists on remaining anonymous, communicating with Jessie only via messaging. To get to know SN better—and maybe even to help her guess who he is—Jessie asks him to “tell her three things” about his day. This leads the two to share three things each time they “talk,” ultimately helping Jessie to realize that SN needs a friend as much as she does. Like when she finds out that he counts in days how long it’s been since the death of someone close to him, just as Jessie counts the days since the death of her mother.
This humorous but realistic book, perhaps most appropriate for older teens and up (due to explicit conversations about sex), follows Jessie as she navigates her new landscape, but mostly as she finds out that the person she needs most really is the person she’d never met…bringing me to three more things I loved about this book:
(1) Jessie is a whole, well-rounded character, who I really liked, but…
(2) There’s a lot more to admire about this story because it’s not just about Jessie. We find out what makes the other characters tick—like SN—but I especially loved the descriptions of Jessie’s best friend Scarlett: her heartaches and dreams and how Jessie’s move affected her, too.
Finally…(3) Tell Me Three Things is a compulsively readable book.
Have you read Tell Me Three Things? We’d love to hear what you think!
Link to buy Tell Me Three Things at your local independent bookstore (we love them!) or at Indiebound by clicking here.