Ava XOX by Carol Weston (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2016) continues 11-year-old Ava’s story over the course of her fifth-grade year. I was a bit nervous going into this book because the premise is that Ava begins to have a crush on a boy in her class, and I certainly don’t want my soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter to start to think about having crushes.
Apparently, I need not worry as she still declares boys in her class gross. I need not have worried about this book, either, because although Ava does realize a little bit of her changing feelings, she also recognizes her own place as a child and does not want to hurry into becoming a teenager.
Previous books in the Ava and Pip series saw Ava’s sister Pip becoming a girlfriend to a boy in her class. Pip is just 14, so even in that setting, I thought she was rather young to be singling out someone as a “love interest.” But, in the book, the two teenagers mostly spend time together and talk together. There is talk about “a kiss,” but even in this third volume, the teenagers did not seem ultraserious. (I can’t even remember when Pip did kiss him. Or did she?) When Pip’s boyfriend writes “I love you” on the Valentine’s Day card, she is incredibly uncomfortable, because that is not what she feels yet. Instead, the two decide that what they really mean is “I ❤ You” (I [heart] you), which to them means they like to be around each other and they make each other’s hearts go “pitter-pat.” (Ok, so that explanation is never provided in the book, but that is how I interpreted it.)
As I mentioned, given Pip’s boyfriend in the previous book, I worried that Ava would now likewise get a “boyfriend,” which makes me roll my eyes. At age 11, that is ridiculous. Thankfully, it kind of turns out that way for the fifth graders in this book too. At one point, one of the kids says something like, “How could we go out? We can’t go anywhere by ourselves.” (I don’t have the page number, because I don’t take notes when reading juvenile fiction.)
In Ava’s school, a fellow fifth grader “asks out” Chuck, who is Ava’s friend and has been since Kindergarten. Throughout the remainder of the book, Ava begins to feel jealous of that friend. To the discerning reader, it is clear that Chuck is not quite sure what to make of this “going out” situation either. He doesn’t seem interested in listening to Kelli, and she doesn’t have a sense of humor that matches his personality.
Although this book shows Ava’s jealousy toward Kelli’s friendship with Chuck, who happens to be a boy, the whole book still feels similar to the jealousy Ava had in the previous book Taco Cat, in which her best friend Marabelle likewise began spending time with a new friend — Zara. At the end of Taco Cat, Ava had learned that everyone can have multiple friends. At the end of XOX, Ava and Chuck both learn the same: there is no need to label a friendship “best” or “boyfriend” when it is obviously special. Getting along with a friend — sharing jokes, listening to each other, and helping with spelling words — is worth it, no matter if it’s boy-girl or girl-girl.
While my 10-year-old daughter and I read the previous two books together (one aloud, and the other via audio), we didn’t have time this month to do so yet. I’m hoping we can read it together during our holiday breaks. So, I’m not sure how she will react to the situation in this book (since she declares boys “gross” still), but I do hope that it gives her a new perspective on boy-girl friendship at 11. There is no need to rush into the “going out” label because it’s completely unnecessary! Just enjoy being a friend.
See my thoughts on the previous books in this series: