Susie B. Won’t Back Down, by Margaret Finnegan, (Oct. 2021, Atheneum), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534496361
Susie Babuszkiewicz is a fifth grader with a lot to say: she’s worried about polar bears, she’ll let you know it’s not fair that she’s got to be called Susie B. now that there’s another Susie – one who spells her name all cool, like Soozee – in her school, and she really dislikes the Usual Geniuses who always get called on in class and get picked for cool things in school. Kids like Susie, who have “butterflies” in their brain? They never get called on unless it’s to criticize or ask if they’re paying attention, and she’s tired of it! She and her best friend, her spark, Joselyn, decide to run for seats on the student council to give “normal” kids a chance. Susie wants to be student council president so that she can raise awareness for polar bears and “get to be the boss of everyone… AND eternal glory”. Susie B. doesn’t seem to have the biggest grasp on 5th grade politics just yet, but that’s okay: aspirations are good!
The elections serve as the backdrop to Susie’s growth trajectory; the main focus of the novel. Written as journal entries to Susan B. Anthony, the topic of Susie’s hero research project, Susie learns that our heroes are human to a fault, friendships can be fleeting, and eternal glory may not be within reach by fifth grade, but learning to love yourself and advocate for yourself is. Brilliantly written in the first person, Susie B. has a sense of humor and pathos that readers will love and see themselves in. There is a strong subplot of Susan B. Anthony, and other “heroes of history”, having human foibles – and how we can appreciate the good that they do while not shying away from – not whitewashing over – the human failings.