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“You made a mistake. That doesn’t make you stupid,” Red. –Focused
by Alyson Gerber
Clea can’t control her thoughts. Some days, her thoughts repeat in an endless loop. Other days, her mind jumps from topic to topic. Either way, she can’t focus on her homework. Even when she tries to focus really, really hard, she still gets distracted. Someone is always chewing their gum too loudly or making annoying noises.
But that’s not her only problem. Everything that Clea thinks pops out of her mouth. She can’t seem to keep the words from jumping out. Clea’s issues are starting to cause problems in other areas of her life—when she’s playing chess, or when she’s hanging out with her best friend. What’s worse is that other kids are starting to notice.
When Clea keeps doing poorly in school, her parents want to have her tested for ADHD. Clea is convinced that she doesn’t have ADHD. If she tried a little harder, everything would be fine. Then, when Clea has an epic fight with her best friend, she knows that something has to change. But how do you change something that is in your head?
Anyone who has struggled in school will be able to relate to Clea. Even when Clea tries her best, she still can’t focus. She constantly berates herself, thinking that she’s just too dumb to do well. Told from Clea’s point of view, Focused allows Clea’s frustration to take center stage. With the assistance of a cast of helpful adults—psychologists, teachers, parents, counselors—Clea gains new time management skills and learns how to speak up for herself.
Even though the story focuses on Clea’s difficulties, the reader will be drawn into the conflict between Clea and other characters in the story. Clea’s best friend is dealing with family problems while one of the chess players constantly puts Clea down. The story also adds a little romance, a little chess, and a host of imperfect characters. Clea’s sister Henley is one of the best parts of the story. The sweet little sister who struggles with talking is always cheering for Clea. Clea realizes that having a person love you unconditionally is amazing. She thinks, “It feels like magic that there’s a person in the world who thinks I’m definitely going to win, no matter what, just because I’m me.”
This easy-to-read story explains how ADHD works and teaches management skills as well. Best of all, it shows that having a learning disability is nothing to be ashamed about. Anyone who reads Focused will come away with a better understanding of ADHD plus empathy for those who struggle with their emotions. The story also highlights the importance of perseverance and forgiveness. Anyone who has ever struggled with feeling inferior or has struggled with school work should read Focused. The story will encourage young readers to ask for help when needed as well as never to give up.
- Red’s father moved to Colorado and has a new girlfriend. Red finds out that his dad married his girlfriend and that she is going to have a baby.
- While talking to Dylan, Clea slips her hand into his, and “he wraps his fingers around mine and squeezes, like he doesn’t want to let go. My stomach flips.”
- After Dylan asks Clea to be his girlfriend, they kiss. Clea smiles at him, and then “before I know it, his lips are on mine and we’re kissing. It’s soft and sweet and mint chocolate flavored, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with my hands, so I leave them exactly where they are, because I never want the kissing to stop. I want to stay like this forever.”
- Clea and her friend talk about kissing a boy. It was both of the girl’s first kiss. When Clea’s friend worries that she was bad at kissing, Clea googles “Am I bad at kissing?” Clea then asks her friend, “Okay—did you bump teeth? Or move your head all over the place? Or slobber?” When Clea’s friend says no, the girls laugh and decide they are good at kissing. The conversation takes place over a page.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Clea thinks she is “an idiot.”
- Jerk is used four times. Once Clea thinks a boy is a “jerk.” Later she tells the boy that he was acting like “a jerk.”
- OMG is used six times.