Just Sayin’ / by Dandi Daley Mackall. 3.13.2019

Tyndale ISBN 9781496423160

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 5

Cassie Callahan loves big words, making witty remarks, writing letters, and avoiding her mom’s phone calls in Just Sayin’. With the way her mom and almost step-dad broke up, and worse, left town–one to California and the other to Chicago–Cassie has a lot to write about, and she doesn’t mince words. Cassie’s pen-pals include her pastor, her almost step-brother Nick, her almost step-sister Julie, her mom, Jesus, and Johnathan Kirby the star of Cassie’s favorite show, The King of Insults. The letters Cassie reads give her insight into the lives of her loved ones, but with her pastor’s guidance, Cassie starts to read the best “letter” of all–the Bible. The only problem with reading the Bible is she starts to wonder if her insults are wholesome speech. Since Cassie has a plan to reunite her mom and Travis, and that plan relies on her well-honed ability to insult others, God’s timing is just not good at all.

Through letters, Dandi Daley Mackall reveals the idiosyncrasies, deepest thoughts, and growth of her characters. Accessible writing for young readers doesn’t stop Mackall from including new vocabulary words and most of their definitions within the letters. The plot quickly develops as Cassie and Nick commiserate with each other about their disappointment in their respective parent’s decision to break up, and then move on to determining what they can do to change their situation–including entering an insult contest.

The first half of the book is filled with somewhat insulting and mildly disrespectful letters. While Cassie and Nick’s insults aren’t necessarily hurtful to each other, many parents may discourage this kind of speech in their children. Mackall handles the situation neatly as Cassie learns what the Bible has to say about speech. The theme comes sparkling through Cassie’s letter to Jesus, “Thanks for your letters and the other stuff in the Bible. I will never forget that one in Colossians, about letting my conversation be gracious so that I will have the right response for everyone.” (p. 178)

Kristina Wolcott, CLJ