Friday, October 8, 2021

Susie B. Won't Back Down - review - 10.08.21

Writing books for kids can be tricky.  Generally, it's adults writing the books.  But if they try to get too "adult-like" it really doesn't work.  Kids want to read about real kid things and kids acting like real kids.  That means sometimes the kids aren't going to act the way adults want them to act or react.  That means sometimes the plot is going to be focused on what kids want to read, not the adults (ok, that should be all the time...).  That means sometimes friendships are going to get messy and not all endings are going to be sunshine and rainbows.  This is a book I think kids are going to enjoy because it will feel real to them.  Especially the main character, Susie B.

Susie B. Won't Back Down
by Margaret Finnegan
published by Atheneum

Summary (from Goodreads)
Roll with It meets Absolutely Normal Chaos in this funny, big-hearted novel about a young girl’s campaign for student council president, told through letters to her hero Susan B. Anthony.

Susie B. has a lot to say. Like how it’s not fair that she has to be called Susie B. instead of plain Susie. Or about how polar bears are endangered. Or how the Usual Geniuses are always getting picked for cool stuff over the kids like her with butterflies in their brain. And it’s because Susie B. has a lot to say about these very important things that she’s running for student council president!

If she’s president, she can advocate for the underdogs just like her hero and fellow Susie B., Susan B. Anthony. (And, okay, maybe the chance to give big speeches to the whole school with a microphone is another perk.) But when the most usual of Usual Geniuses also enters the student council race, Susie realizes this may be a harder won fight than she thought. Even worse, Susie discovers that Susan B. Anthony wasn’t as great as history makes it seem, and she did some pretty terrible things to try to help her own cause. Soon, Susie has her own tough decisions to make. But one thing is for sure—no matter what, Susie B. won’t back down.

My thoughts
This is a book I think you can hand off to kids and they are going to love meeting the main character and they will appreciate the storyline.  As I read the story, I kept thinking about how much kids will enjoy the book, even if I wanted to jump in and share my two cents with the characters!  The characters act just like kids today act.  The problems they face are problems are kids are facing today.  And that will make the story REAL to the readers.

The characters are real.  They talk like fifth graders.  They have problems - including unnamed ADD - like a lot of kids.  They will know the kids in this book.  They'll know the "usual geniuses" - the same kids who are chosen for everything (yeah, you know they exist at your school too).  They'll know the kids who aren't the nicest, but probably deep down have a reason why they act the way they do.  They'll know the kids who aren't the popular ones, the ones that are not chosen for everything, but are just nice kids.  This is a story that kids will be able to see themselves in.

The problems are relatable.  There are friendship problems.  And what I liked about them is they didn't get the "can't we all just get along" resolution.  That made it feel real.  There is discussion of sexism and racism and how they are not ok.  And Finnegan explores the big idea of how do you get what you want without having to compromise who you are?  Readers of this book are all figuring out their identities and who they want to be.  Figuring that out becomes more complicated as you grow older.  The exploration of this idea will resonate with readers.

I also enjoyed how the entire book is a series of letters written to the main character's hero, Susan B. Anthony.  The idea of heroism is explored through these letters.  It's also impressive to see how the letters move the entire storyline along.  Because Susie B. is writing to a historical figure, there is a piece of history that is explored throughout the book.  Just something that adds to the story!

Finally, this is a perfect book to read with students if you use Beers' and Probst's Notice and Note Signposts.  I found so many great ones to talk about!  You could use this as a read aloud or in a reading group.

Check out the fun mock newspaper, The Susie B News--available for download here!


Kirkus Reviews had this to say about Susie B.: “Susie is energetic, breathless, enthusiastic, and genuinely, charmingly funny.”

And it's a Junior Library Guild Selection!

More about author Margaret Finnegan

Margaret Finnegan is the author of the middle-grade novels Susie B. Won’t Back Down and We Could Be Heroes. Her writing often focuses on themes on inclusion, hard choices, and being true to yourself. She also makes a really good chocolate cake. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

* thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for the review copy *

Would you like to include this book in your library?  Atheneum/Simon and Schuster has generously donated a copy for a giveaway (US addresses only).  Enter by Friday, October 15th for your chance!