If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say

336p. Farrar. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374380991.
In this ripped-from-the-headlines novel, high school senior Winter Halperin-former National Spelling Bee champ and aspiring writer-faces internet notoriety after she posts the following online: "We learned many surprising things today. Like dehnstufe is apparently a word, and that a black kid can actually win the Spelling Bee." That she meant it as an ironic joke is lost as the post goes viral; instead of the expected few "likes" from her close-knit group of guy friends, Winter (who is white) gets thousands of vitriolic comments in response and becomes part of the news cycle. Winter's reactions to the perceived injustice are squirm-inducing-she fumbles a public apology, grapples with her right to victimhood as a "middle class, overeducated white girl," and accuses an offended African American friend of betrayal-but they feel honest to her character. A stay at a "reputation rehab" program eventually helps Winter gather the courage to tell her own story, and she finds solace in an understated romance with the paraplegic son of a disgraced banker. Not all readers will be willing to give Winter a chance at redemption, but those who do will find a thoughtful coming-of-age story that underlines the power of empathy, community, and believing in one's own capacity for positive change. jessica tackett macdonald

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