Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz hopes that during her Spanish class’s summer trip to Barcelona, Spain, she’ll be able to reconnect with her best (and only) friend, Laurel. Although her supportive father is accompanying the class as a chaperone, Ellen, who has autism, struggles when the trip’s itinerary changes. Additionally, Ellen and Laurel are assigned to different groups for the class scavenger hunt, requiring Ellen to get acquainted with other classmates, including new student Isa, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. As the students see the city’s sights, Ellen has poignant realizations that change the trajectory of her trip, her thoughts about the future, and the ways that she views the world.
Ellen Outside the Lines features realistic, fleshed-out characters who are imperfect and learning how to navigate the world in their own ways. The book thoughtfully integrates concepts including pronouns and identities, deftly underscoring the individuality of the characters, who possess various backgrounds and identities. Ellen’s narrative also includes a nuanced exploration of her ideas about Judaism. Ellen and her family are observant, and she and Abba even celebrate Shabbat with Ellen’s mom back home via video chat. But when Abba eats non-kosher food on the trip, Ellen is initially bothered until Abba explains that, like most things in life, relationships with faith and interpretations are personal and unique.
Readers will enjoy this heartening story featuring a realistic portrayal of a neurodivergent middle schooler and her journey.