Review in Conversation: Gracehopper, by Mandy Hager

Reviewed by Amelia (14) and Katarina (14)

Eighteen-year-old Grace has struggled all her life with her place in this family and in the world. Obviously of Asian descent, she has been unable to get the truth about her parentage from her mother, a woman who is struggling with her own demons, that date back to her life in Taiwan where she survived an earthquake while giving birth to Grace.

Teenagers Amelia and Katarina discuss their reactions and thoughts on Mandy Hager’s new YA novel Gracehopper which follows a young woman searching for her own identity.

Amelia: Do you want to give an outline of the story?

Katarina: Teenage Grace idolises Bruce Lee and enjoys practising Jeet Kune Do, because it teaches her strategies that she uses to cope with life. Grace's mother Katherine has bad PTSD resulting from an earthquake at the same time as Grace was born. She struggles with her mental health, and tried to overdose when Grace was young.  Grace worries constantly about her mother. At the time the book is written, Grace is finishing high school, and trying to decide what comes next for her future. She feels stuck living at home, having to look after her mother who would not cope without her because of her PTSD. Her childhood best friend, Charlie Darwin, who left to go to Europe when she was just seven, has recently reappeared in Grace’s life and she feels overwhelmed. When Charlie left, lonely Grace took this as a betrayal. Now he’s back. Will Grace be able to forgive him? 

Grace faces a lot of challenges, from her mother’s PTSD flashbacks to her grandmother’s battle with cancer. It is a lot for her to handle, and she is overwhelmed as she tries to understand how Charlie has changed since she last saw him.

Katarina: The story deals with sensitive issues like mental health and drug usage, as well as the death of family members. Do you think the author handled this well?

Amelia : Yes, I think she handled it really well and thoughtfully. She covered all perspectives and the way it went into depth about what it felt like for Grace was really amazing. I also found the way the author made it relatable for other people who might be going through the same or a similar situation to Grace or Katherine to be really incredible too.

Katarina: Yeah, she went into depth on how these issues affected both Katherine and Grace, and the people around them, and explored both the negative and positive impacts they had by showing how people's actions affect others.

Katarina:The second guy took me out a few times last year, but Mum was going through a bad patch so I had to keep cancelling. In the end he gave up.”  This quote describes how hard it must have been for Grace to form lasting relationships, because she was constantly worried about her mother, and didn’t have much time for others because she had to take care of her.

How do you think the fact that Grace had to look after her mother from a young age affected Grace’s relationships with her mother and other people in her life? 

Amelia: I think this caused Grace's relationships throughout her life to be unstable or superficial as she always had to be on guard 24/7. The PTSD flashbacks that Grace had to deal with while she was still a child meant she didn't have the mental capacity or time to make friends. This caused Grace’s relationship with her mother to not have proper mother and daughter boundaries and for Grace to have to handle a lot of pressure.

Katarina: Grace’s childhood friend, Charlie, struggles with achondroplasia, which means his bones don’t grow properly. During the book we watch Charlie as he matures, and learns more about himself. At the beginning, Charlie is fixated on fitting in with the crowd, and he has a youtube channel where he posts prank videos, because he believes that people are laughing with him rather than at him, and that is a way he can control his situation. How does this affect his friendship with Grace? 

Amelia: This affects his friendship with Grace badly because she finds it really hard to watch him put himself down by making prank videos that play into the stereotypes of “Little people.”

Grace says, “As long as you wave that Little person flag, it’ll keep you small.” Grace wants Charlie to realise what he is doing isn’t helping him; it is just hurting himself and the people around him.

Katarina: What did you think of Gracehopper overall?

Amelia: Overall, this book is an interesting read that handles topics that are not often covered in Young Adult fiction. The characters are easy to connect with on an emotional level. Grace is relatable, and her reactions seem realistic and truthful. This book is a great read for teenagers, specifically older teens. It is a thoughtful book that gives you insight into other people’s lives.

Gracehopper review

Reviewed by Amelia (14) and Katarina (14)