Just Sayin’

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Book Review

Just Sayin’ by Dandi Daley Mackall has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Cassie Callahan’s life has been turned upside down. Her mother, Jen, was supposed to marry Travis Barton in a few weeks. Cassie adored Travis. She had also fallen for Travis’ 7-year-old daughter, Julie, and developed an insult-based but meaningful friendship with his 11-year-old son, Nick. For some reason the kids can’t figure out why Travis and Cassie’s mom suddenly called off the wedding.

Now, Cassie’s mom has gone to California to pull herself together. She leaves Cassie with Gram in Hamilton, Missouri. Travis has taken his kids to Chicago, where they’re all staying at Travis’ father’s retirement condo.

Cassie spends most of her free time writing letters. She frequently writes to her almost-siblings, especially Nick. She also writes the grumpy Insult King, Johnathan Kirby, who hosts a TV show called “The Hour of Insult.” She and Nick both love his program. She writes to Mom, to her pastor and then, at Pastor Mike’s suggestion, to Jesus. The story is told entirely in letters between the characters.

Cassie’s letters to Kirby and Nick are sometimes caustic, especially at first. But the more she writes to Jesus and gets input from Pastor Mike, the more convicted she becomes about the words she uses. She learns that words are meant to build others up, and the wrong words can be profoundly hurtful. Even so, she and Nick decide to try out for the insult competition on one of Kirby’s upcoming shows. One male winner and one female winner will get a cruise. The kids believe if Travis and Jen are stuck on a cruise together, they will make up.

As Cassie and Nick try to unravel the mystery of Travis and Jen’s breakup, they decide to play matchmakers. Cassie writes to Travis, pretending to be Jen, and Nick writes to Jen, pretending to be Travis. The embarrassed adults catch on right away and exchange brief texts apologizing for their children.

Both Nick and Cassie are selected to be on Kirby’s show. Gram, who has now developed a pen-pal relationship with Kirby, agrees to attend the taping with Cassie. Nick doesn’t think his dad will approve, so Cassie sends him money to travel to Hannibal, Missouri, by bus. Nick leaves his dad a note telling his whereabouts, and Gram tells Jen about the competition.

Both Jen and Travis show up to watch. They ignore each other at first but begin to reconnect as the kids progress in the insult rounds. Cassie, in particular, is careful to keep her words clean. In fact, the majority of her rebuttals come from Bible proverbs. The kids’ competitors use rude remarks and foul language. Nick and Cassie are both eliminated toward the end of the competition, much to Kirby’s chagrin. He makes the live announcement that he is taking the kids and their families on an upcoming cruise to kick off his new show, and the kids will be a part of the show on the cruise.

The book’s final letters show Jen and Travis have married and made this cruise their honeymoon trip with the whole family. Viewers on the cruise love the rapport Kirby and the kids have. Their show is much less insult-based and more like old-time vaudeville. Cassie realizes that she always wants to build others up with her words, not tear them down. She feels she has gotten her happily ever after.

Christian Beliefs

Cassie has a lot of questions for God and Pastor Mike after Jen and Travis’ breakup. As “God’s mouthpiece,” Mike patiently directs Cassie to God’s letters, the Bible. He shares a number of passages and stories that help her not only understand God better but think about her own words. He also urges her to be persistent in prayer. Cassie shares her newfound understanding of God with Nick, Julie and even the crusty, cynical Kirby.

Other Belief Systems

None

Authority Roles

Cassie’s dad died in a car accident years ago. Nick and Julie’s mom is an actress who deserted their family and has had multiple marriages. Travis and Jen are a loving Christian couple who allow a misunderstanding to pull them apart.

Jen leaves Cassie with Gram as she tries to pull herself together after the breakup. Gram isn’t sure how to handle the sudden presence of her granddaughter, but she tries to ensure her safety and happiness.

The hard-hearted Kirby, who initially refers to himself as a self-made man, softens as Nick, Cassie and Gram continue to write him letters. He becomes an encourager and advocate for them and their families. Pastor Mike is patient with Cassie’s anger at him and God after Jen and Travis break up.

Profanity & Violence

None

Sexual Content

None

Discussion Topics

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