8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia Toney

8 Notes to a Nobody by Cynthia Toney

Reviewed by M.S. Ocampo

8 Notes to a Nobody centers on Wendy, an average eighth-grader with insecurities about how she looks and what others think about who she is. Her story begins when she finds an anonymous sticky note and shares it with her best friend, Jennifer. This slice-of-life young adult novel follows Wendy as she tries to survive the ups and downs of junior high while she struggles with envy for the perfect life that Jennifer has, and almost loses that friendship by acting like a bad friend. In the end, Wendy learns how empathy for others can change one’s attitude and perspective.

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            Wendy is the only child of a divorced couple and starts off sounding like a bit of a brat because of how she complains of her mom having carpal tunnel and her impatience to see her best friend Jennifer. At Bellingrath Junior High, Wendy gets bullied by a Brainiac that she calls John-Monster and envies the “Sticks,” the popular girl clique, led by Tookie Miller. At the same time, she crushes over David, the perfect boy next door, and tries out for the track team while honing her passion for art.

What makes this novel unique is that it feels like it could take place at any middle school across the United States or maybe even other countries. Similar to teen flicks like Clueless and Mean Girls, you find stereotypical characters often based on real-life young adults: the popular chick, the handsome jerk, the girl next door, the sensitive boy, etc. Wendy, however, doesn’t feel like she belongs in any clique because she loves running, but she’s also artsy and her biggest issue is learning to have compassion and empathy for others and appreciate the gifts that she has, even though John-Monster calls her “Bird Face.”

      Throughout the novel, Wendy encounters situations where she realizes the people she either hates or envies have to deal with their own problems. Tookie is shown to have an eating disorder but it’s never shown whether Tookie realizes that she has a problem or not. Wendy visits Tookie in the hospital and eventually, Tookie gets better. The other issue involves John-Monster struggling with depression, but given that he starts out as a typical bully, he doesn’t seem like a typical case of a teen “acting out.” Without spoiling what happens to John-Monster, Wendy has to reconcile the bully she knows with the fact that people like John-Monster and Tookie have their own insecurities.

The biggest struggle that Wendy has, though, is how she constantly compares herself to her best friend Jennifer. Wendy initially has concerns when Jennifer starts losing weight, thinking she might be anorexic like Tookie. Wendy lets her resentments get to her, leading Wendy to act like a bad friend when Jennifer performs the lead role in Oklahoma, starring alongside the guy that Wendy has a crush on. They have a little distance over the summer but are still friends when they meet up again at the end of summer vacation.

Overall, I recommend this book to young adults who will probably identify with Wendy and her insecurities. I think it shows that while you may not be able to like everyone in your life, you can at least have compassion and empathy for them. The only downside to this book is that the Catholic themes are pretty minimal, almost incidental. Wendy wears a crucifix, skipped Mass during a really bad day, remembers the commandment about “thou shalt not envy” but that’s about as far as Catholic themes go. Still, it teaches young girls that they can take initiative and change themselves when they’re not satisfied with their lives.

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Genre: Young Adult

Catholic Themes: Compassion, Empathy, Envy, Depression, Eating Disorders, Self-Acceptance

Year Published: 2015

Author’s Worldview: Catholic