Kate Gordon enchants readers once again with Xavier in the Meantime.
We first met Xavier in Aster’s Good, Right Things (full review here), as he and Aster form a friendship and share their mental health struggles. Aster must do good, right things in secret every day to make sure that no one will leave here. And Xavier must always watch out for the big black dog of depression that could attack at any time. Aster and Xavier lean on each other, helping one another through their hard days.
At the end of Aster’s Good, Right Things, both Aster and Xavier are getting the help they need. Xavier in the Meantime picks up shortly after the events of Aster, and continues both of their stories with Xavier as the narrator this time. Many beloved characters from the last book make a reappearance. While Aster and Xavier take place in the same world with the same characters, it isn’t required to read them in order. Xavier does a great job of quickly and efficiently summarizing the first book so readers start off feeling up to date. This is especially helpful for those of us that read Aster quite some time ago, as well.
Xavier is still best friends with Aster, and he’s still struggling with depression. Even in his happy moments, he fears the return of depression and how it will impact those around him.
This book has wonderful mental health representation, showing that different kids struggle with different things. I love the messaging, from not knowing what someone is going through based on their school/family/exterior appearance to empowering you to face your mental struggles head on to not blaming yourself for having different mental health needs than what is so often represented as ‘normal’. Gordon does an excellent job of showing kids how to be a good friend to someone going through hardship, whether that difficulty be temporary, permanent, or somewhere in between.
Xavier is full of great depictions of struggling with mental illness/depression. Unpredictable highs and lows, feeling like everyone will leave you because you’re a burden, and feeling like you have it easier than others and therefore shouldn’t have these feelings.
These depictions wouldn’t be possible without great character development. I love how Gordon populates her books with incredibly well-developed characters, so that everyone from the girl behind the counter at the ice cream shop to the therapist to Aster’s aunt are all fully developed individuals in their own right.
Xavier also normalizes getting the help you need. We see Xavier have a hospital stay, go to group therapy, talk about his feelings with trusted adults, and loads of healthy behaviors. But all of that is balanced with Xavier struggling to make those healthy decisions, feeling inadequate and like a burden long before he broaches the topic with his loved ones. One of the skills he learns at group therapy is writing his feelings down, and he chooses to do so through poetry. This makes quite a difference for him, and as a result beautiful poetry is woven into narrative. Xavier, Aster, and a new potential friend from group therapy all practice poetry, and the results are deeply emotional.
Honestly, this book just makes me incredibly emotional. I cried all the tears while reading it, which sounds like an overstatement but is mostly just accurate. From tiny heart tugs that made me misty to big moments of heartache to just the simple wonders of Xavier feeling seen and loved, my eyes were rarely dry. And yet, it is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’m so glad it will be available to children to show them what is possible.
The ultimate theme of Xavier is that there isn’t any one, big fix-all for mental health struggles, and that there isn’t anything wrong with that. Taking care of one’s mental health is a lifelong endeavor, and it just starts a bit earlier for some than others. The best course of action is to surround yourself with loved ones who treat you well always, seek professional help, and give yourself grace.
Xavier in the Meantime will be available February 1, 2022 from Riveted Press.
Thank you to author Kate Gordon, Riveted Press, and NetGalley for an advanced e-copy such that I could share my honest review.
Though Xavier in the Meantime is not available for preorder yet from Amazon, you can read Aster’s Good, Right Things while you wait!
You can view more middle grade book recommendations in my Bookshop.org shop here!
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