Review: Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Posted April 25, 2023 by Lola in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Review graphic

Ellen Outside the LinesEllen Outside the Lines
A.J. Sass

My Rating: 5 stars

Genre: Contemporary
Age Category: Middle Grade

A heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons for fans of Rain Reign and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World.

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track. Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.

My Review

Ellen Outside the Lines was a wonderful story about an autistic thirteen-year-old who goes on a school trip to Barcelona. She makes new friends and deals with her changing friendship with her best friend while discovering Barcelona. I really liked this book and it got hooked me from the first chapter with it’s realistic and relatable main character. I really liked how the author wrote about Ellen and how they wrote about her being autistic. Besides that there is a side character Gibbs who has ADHD, someone who recently discovered he’s gay and Isa who is non-binary. It all was handled well and I liked reading about these characters, how they interacts with each other and figure out things about their own identity.

This book is very character driven, following their journey and perspectives and getting to know them. Then there are changing and developing friendships and exploring Barcelona. There’s also a scavenger hunt, which was surprisingly fun to read about. There are lots of great themes and topics all interwoven into the story, from acceptance to neurodivergence, to gender identity, friendships and more. I thought it was all wonderfully handled and woven throughout the story. The ending is a bit open, but after some consideration I actually thought worked really well. There’s no vision of the future or showcase of what comes next and I thought that somehow fit the book well.

Ellen the main character is great to read about, I thought the author wrote her really well. She’s autistic and it’s part of her personality and it felt very natural and realistic the way it was described. I really liked reading about her and at times really felt for her with her struggles and the way other people don’t always understand so she couldn’t always act how she wanted too and I thought that was sad. I liked her insight into being autistic and how she was very self aware and sometimes had to remind herself of her therapists’ advice and work through things. She got some parts of her worldview challenged and I liked how she absorbed the new information and how that fit into what she knew. There are times where she makes mistakes, but I liked how she realizes this and apologizes even though it’s tough.

This book is filled with great side characters too. Isa who is non-binary shines from the pages the first time they appear. They’re clearly comfortable in their own skin and I liked reading about them. Andy and Gibbs were very likeable too. I thought Gibbs would be an annoying judging character at first, but I quickly figured out that wasn’t the direction he was going in at all. He isn’t afraid to ask questions, but I also felt like he really listened to answers and changed his behavior and thoughts based on that. Abba is Ellen’s father who is along with this trip and I liked how supportive he was and gave Ellen space but also was there when she needed help or talk things through and help her udnerstand things. And then there is Laurel who is Ellen’s best friend and I thought she felt pretty realistic too, even though she and Ellen struggle sometimes with their changing friendship and I didn’t always like her, I felt she was written well and felt realistic.

I liked reading about how all the characters interacted and how different their friendships are. I especially liked how accepting Ellen’s scavenger hunt team was and how they all work together to solve the clues. They really felt like a team and it was great to read about it.

It was fun to visit Barcelona alongside Ellen and her friends. I’ve never visited the city, but thought the author described it really well so it really felt like I was there alongside the characters and I could visualize what everything looked like.

To summarize: This was a wonderful book about a an autistic thirteen year old who visits Barcelona on a school trip. It felts very real, realistic and relatable. The story deals with a variety of themes and topics that are all woven throughout the story of their Barcelona visit and scavenger hunt there. It’s about diversity in all it’s forms, there’s the autistic main character, someone with ADHD, someone’s whose gay and a non-binary character. It’s all handled well and made for an engaging story. There are themes of figuring out your identity, acceptance and also the struggles that come with being different. It could be a bit sad at times when people judged Ellen or she couldn’t be fully herself, but there are plenty of scenes with people being wonderfully understanding and accepting too. I liked reading about the scavenger hunt and visiting Barcelona alongside the characters. I could visualize the city and the places they visit well thanks to the way the author describes things. Ellen is a great main character and I enjoyed reading about them. There are plenty of realistic and interesting side characters too and I liked reading about them and their interactions with each other. I really enjoyed reading this book and will be checking out more of this authors books for sure.

5 Stars


You can also read my review on Goodreads and Bookbub.

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