Review: Maybe It’s a Sign by E. L. Shen

Maybe It's a Sign by E. L. Shen cover shows a girl with a ponytail reaching for a blue and red bird.

Maybe It’s a Sign
E. L. Shen
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Published January 23, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Maybe It’s a Sign

An uplifting middle-grade novel about loss, luck . . . and deep-dish chocolate chip cookies―perfect for fans of King and the Dragonflies and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.

Seventh-grader Freya June Sun has always believed in the Chinese superstitions spoon-fed to her since birth. Ever since her dad’s death a year ago, she’s become obsessed with them, and believes that her father is sending her messages from beyond. Like how, on her way to an orchestra concert where she’s dreading her viola solo, a pair of lucky red birds appear―a sure indication that Dad wants Freya to stick with the instrument and make him proud.

Then Freya is partnered with Gus Choi, a goofy and super annoying classmate, for a home economics project. To her surprise, as they experiment with recipes and get to know each other, Freya finds that she may love baking more than music. It could be time for a big change in her life, even though her dad hasn’t sent a single sign. But with the help of her family, Gus (who might not be so annoying after all), and two maybe-magical birds, Freya learns that to be her own person, she might just have to make her own luck.

In MAYBE IT’S A SIGN, E. L. Shen cooks up a deliciously voicey, comforting family story sweetened with a dollop of first romance, a dash of whimsy, and heaps of heart.

Maybe It's a Sign on Goodreads

My Review

There’s something really special about a book that gently invites readers into the landscape of grief. Some of the moments in the book are so heartbreaking. Freya’s longing for her dad, her struggle to make sense of the world without him, and to find signs from him around her to keep him close felt so real.

I loved the way she discovered her unexpected love for food and cooking and how that helped her reframe some of the memories about her family and even forge new connections with family and friends. I also liked that between the lines of the book, it was easy to see Freya’s mom and sister wrestling with their own grief in their own ways. The author really nailed those kinds of moments in the book, where Freya doesn’t pick up on someone else’s feelings, but there are enough clues for the reader to figure it out.

On the whole, I really liked this book. I loved the role of music, food, and family in the book, and the relationships between the characters. I think fans of Gillian McDunn and Kate Messner will love this book.

Maybe It's a Sign on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Freya and her family are Chinese American. Her friend Gus is Korean American.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
A boy kisses a girl on the cheek. Some references to crushes and dating.

Spiritual Content
Freya’s dad taught her about different Chinese superstitions and luck, like not wearing white in your hair and red or pairs being lucky.

Violent Content
Freya remembers the story of her father’s death. He collapsed at work and died of a heart attack eight months before the story begins. Freya has a panic attack when something triggers her memory of her dad’s death.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of MAYBE IT’S A SIGN in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays with Greg Pattridge at Always in the Middle

Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

10 Responses to Review: Maybe It’s a Sign by E. L. Shen

  1. Valinora Troy says:

    This sounds love a wonderful story dealing with grief, and the baking interests and superstitions are a nice touch! Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Wow! This sounds like a wonderful story. I’m putting it on my TBR list. Thanks for telling me about it.

  3. Your insights into this story has put it high on my future read list. The characters, dealing with grief, and cooking sound like they mix together well. Thanks for featuring on this week’s MMGM.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful story. I wish my home-ec classes had been more “experimental” and less “follow the recipe”. Also, any book that features chocolate in any form is one I want to taste – er, read.

    • Kasey says:

      Haha! Yes! Same. Though, in fairness, I probably still would have been er, excused from the class. I forgot to mention that the book includes two recipes in the back– one for a deep dish chocolate chip cookie. Yum!

  5. I love stories that involve cooking and baking. And having gone through a lot of grief, I like reading books that explore those themes. This sounds like a book I’d like, and I hadn’t heard of it. Thanks.

    • Kasey says:

      Me, too. <3 There’s a really touching note from the author about her own experience losing her dad around the protagonist’s age and how that informed her writing. It’s a really tender story that’s got some heartwarming points and humor, too.