Review by Faire Jarvis
Random House Children’s Books, Delacorte Press, Feb. 15, 2022
304 pages, Ebook, $22.99 CAD, 978-0-593-37412-2
Ages 10+, Grades 5+
This morning I sit at the desk with the nicks in the wood and write on the last page of my
orange-and-purple-check notebook. I realize that making my words small was making me small. And I
don’t want to be small anymore.
Making new friends has not been easy for Autumn since her best friend, Prisha, moved away.
Unlike many middle-school girls, Autumn prefers to quietly observe and exist at school unnoticed.
Instead of allowing herself to feel alienated, she challenges herself to put the knowledge and advice she
has to good use anonymously. She combats her fear of interaction by writing for the school advice
column, concealed by the identity of “Student.” By using this disguise, Autumn has the chance to talk to a
variety of people with a spectrum of issues and not feel like the centre of attention.
Dear Student by Elly Swartz is a novel that will make readers feel seen and less alone in this
world, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity. With a diverse representation of culture, from
Autumn’s Jewish hamsa to Prisha’s orange sari, Dear Student allows for a wide audience of young
readers to gain confidence through representation. Refreshingly, the diversity and cultural differences
Swartz depicts are not a cause for concern or conflict between characters. They are simply a reflection of
our complex humanity and intersectionality within society.
Social anxiety and other mental health struggles need to be recognized on platforms that young
people can access. Integrating these relatable experiences into enjoyable fiction is one of the best ways to
do so. Swartz does a phenomenal job of demonstrating how children can set boundaries within their
friendships and families, which is a crucial part of maintaining one’s mental health. Whether Autumn is
communicating with her Dad about her feelings of neglect or the peer pressure she experiences from her
new friend, Logan, this book provides the tools that young readers need in order to understand
boundaries, mutual respect, and challenging friendships.
The novel tackles relevant issues of animal care and protection in a way that gives a voice to
students and shows that you do not need to be a wealthy adult to make a difference in this world.
Speaking up for what you are passionate about can and should start at a young age. Through the voice of Autumn, Swartz paves the way for a genre of fiction that acknowledges the realities and imperfections of life alongside the resources that can be used to help. She created the perfect narrator whose internal monologue grapples with real scenarios and emotions.
I would recommend Dear Student to any young reader, no matter what their identity is. While it is
not quite a coming-of-age story, it reaches the age when children become more independent and need to learn what will make them a happier and healthier human being.
Faire Jarvis is an undergraduate student studying English at the University of British Columbia who
enjoys writing and editing essays, and dancing on the weekends.