Review by Holly Maurer
Puffin Canada/Penguin Random House, March 2022
224 pages, Ebook, 9780735268739, $23.32
Ages 10+, Grades 5+
Content warning: This review discusses sexual assault/victim-blaming, bullying, and eating disorders.
I just want you to know none of what they’re saying is true. Missy Stephenson is not telling the truth. My dad didn’t do what she said. He would never do that to someone, especially not a celebrity guest who is also a movie star. I really hope you know that. My dad’s whole job is taking famous people to high-stakes games. As if he would ever do something to one of them!
Susan Juby’s Me Three is a daring and refreshing exploration of 11-year-old Rodney’s coming-of-age in the midst of his father’s sexual assault allegations, the displacement of his family, and his subsequent loss of direction and identity.
Rodney is only just beginning the sixth grade when his beloved and revered father, a celebrity poker player, separates from his family in the wake of sexual assault allegations. Rodney struggles to come to terms with these allegations and the issues they have posed in his family, especially since his sister and mother seem to accept — if not desire — distance from Rodney’s father.
What ensues is Rodney’s gradual and harrowing mental deterioration. Displaced to a small and unfamiliar town, he has trouble acclimating to his new school, and his peers gradually glean insight into the events that led Rodney to their school. Rodney reckons with new friendships, bullies, and the implications of his father’s actions.
The subject matter Juby deals with is heavy, albeit deftly conveyed, so even the most optimistic events of the book are unsettling by nature due to the tone of the novel. Rodney’s sister struggles with an eating disorder, and Rodney himself endures a progressive and destructive crash in his mental health that is visceral and may be disturbing to some young readers. These aspects of the plot only add to the impressive, realistic character depth that Juby imbues into her protagonist, and make for an even more gripping read.
Rodney is exceptionally precocious, and his vocabulary is at times unconvincing for a young person who is only just beginning sixth grade; he often confidently uses terms such as “death-defying,” and makes apt observations about his state of affairs that at times seem beyond his years. With that being said, Rodney declares his desire to become a writer, and his wide vocabulary is subtly woven into the plot. While Rodney may seem at times excessively linguistically advanced, this trait may be beneficial to young students who are also expanding their vocabularies.
Rodney progresses from disbelieving the allegations against his father to confronting the issues themselves and making great strides in maturity, confidence, and responsibility. His character arc is admirable: Rodney spends the better part of the first half of Me Three as a mouthpiece for victim-blaming ideology, but gradually doubles back on everything he once believed after he observes the consequences and the realities of what his father actually did. Rodney is, in this way, a role model to anybody who may be coming to terms with and beginning to navigate similar situations of seeing a beloved figure face serious allegations.
Me Three is thought-provoking, well-developed, and a worthwhile investment into the minds of young people who may be dealing with similar issues as Rodney. The book is engaging, well-paced, and a pioneer in the realm of children’s books dealing with topical societal issues such as the Me Too movement.
Holly Maurer is a UBC Creative Writing student living in Burnaby, BC. She adores poetry of all sorts, baking confections of her wildest dreams, and being a teething toy for her misguided yet ravenous cat.