Review: What Happened to Rachel Riley by Claire Swinarski

What Happened to Rachel Riley by Claire Swinarski

What Happened to Rachel Riley?
Claire Swinarski
Quill Tree Books
Published January 10, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About What Happened to Rachel Riley?

In this engrossing and inventive contemporary middle grade novel that’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? with a #MeToo message, an eighth grader uses social media posts, passed notes, and other clues to find out why a formerly popular girl is now the pariah of her new school.

Anna Hunt may be the new girl at East Middle School, but she can already tell there’s something off about her eighth-grade class. Rachel Riley, who just last year was one of the most popular girls in school, has become a social outcast. But no one, including Rachel Riley herself, will tell Anna why.

As a die-hard podcast enthusiast, Anna knows there’s always more to a story than meets the eye. So she decides to put her fact-seeking skills to the test and create her own podcast around the question that won’t stop running through her head: What happened to Rachel Riley?

With the entire eighth grade working against her, Anna dives headfirst into the evidence. Clue after clue, the mystery widens, painting an even more complex story than Anna could have anticipated. But there’s one thing she’s certain of: If you’re going to ask a complicated question, you better be prepared for the fallout that may come with the answer.

What Happened to Rachel Riley on Goodreads

My Review

I really enjoyed both of the other books by Claire Swinarski – THE KATE IN BETWEEN and WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Both explore relationships between girls and show a lot of the complexity and the way relationships change in middle school. I love that about both those books.

And I love it about WHAT HAPPENED TO RACHEL RILEY? as well. What begins as Anna’s curiosity and perhaps a well-meaning attempt to understand why a girl has been ostracized unearths a whole mess of events that it’s clear her new classmates would rather keep quiet. She pieces events together, and then has to decide what to do about the painful truths she’s learned.

The emotional journey that Anna takes feels very real and genuine. She’s not always right. She struggles. Sometimes she missteps. But her experiences and responses to them made sense and drew me deeper into the story. I needed to know what would happen.

This is definitely the kind of book I wish I’d had in seventh grade, and one I wish my daughter had had, too. I think it’s a great resource for middle school classrooms and libraries. Readers who enjoyed UPSTANDER by James Preller or CHIRP by Kate Messner will not want to miss this one.

What Happened to Rachel Riley on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Anna’s mother emigrated to the US as a college student. Anna, her sister, and her mother speak Polish and English.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
References to crude comments about girls’ bodies.

Romance/Sexual Content
No romantic content. See spoiler section at the end.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
See spoiler section at the end.

Drug Content




Boys at Anna’s school created a game in which they assigned point values for different girls. Boys would receive points for snapping a girl’s bra strap or slapping her butt. Some scenes show boys snapping a girl’s bra.

The story addresses this as absolutely wrong and explores how different girls feel in the moment and the ways they try to deal with it. For the most part, I love the way this topic is handled in the book. I felt like the girls’ reactions were realistic for girls at this age. Some wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening because they were too uncomfortable speaking up. Others tried to speak up but were shamed for it. Sometimes adults responded appropriately. Other times not so much.

So it felt very real. The story also didn’t feel forced to me. Things unfolded in a very organic way, and the issue didn’t overshadow the characters or their choices.

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 WHAT HAPPENED TO RACHEL RILEY? in exchange for my honest review.

Tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

About Kasey

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

Comments are closed.