How to Become a Planet
Algonquin Young Readers
Published May 25, 2021
About How to Become a Planet
For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
I feel like Nicole Melleby does an incredible job bringing issues to the middle grade stage with poise and poignance but without softening the truth about how hard some of those challenges can be. Both of the books she’s written that I’ve reviewed (HOW TO BECOME A PLANET and HURRICANE SEASON) have explored mental health and identity issues as well as complex relationships with single parents. This book also included resolving conflicts within a friendship.
All those topics felt handled really well in the context of a middle grade story. I didn’t feel sheltered from Pluto’s anxiety or her depression. I felt like I experienced those things along with her, but in a really accessible way. Like they would still make sense (I think) to someone whether or not they’d shared that experience personally.
I liked that Pluto’s parents both wanted to help her and be present and loving with her, but that the story showed how complicated that was for Pluto, too. I liked that no one in the story is perfect. It was also really cool that the story focused on building Pluto’s support team: friends, parents, mentors, and her therapist, all working together to create a network that Pluto could lean on when she needed them.
HOW TO BECOME A PLANET may not be the book that resonates with every reader, but it’s such a sweet, deep story. It’s about learning to recognize what you need and how to be loved even when you don’t feel lovable. Readers who enjoyed BREATHING UNDERWATER or ASTER’S GOOD RIGHT THINGS will not want to miss this one.
Content Notes for How to Become a Planet
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Several characters, including Pluto, identify as queer.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
A kiss between two girls.
Pluto has a meltdown and lashes out physically.
Pluto takes medication for her anxiety and depression.
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