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The Kate in Between

The Kate in Between


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Book Review

Twelve-year-old Kate is lauded online as a hero for saving her best friend’s life. But when she thinks about everything she’s done, she’s not so sure she’s even a very good friend.

Plot Summary

Kate McAllister made a promise to always be best friends with Maddie Marks. She even swore it on a jar full of fireflies during the summer before seventh grade.

However, things change. And when they do, firefly-jar promises don’t hold up so well. But to be honest, sometimes change is exactly what you want. What you need. Change can make bad things in your life feel a little less bad.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Maddie isn’t a bad thing in Kate’s life. She’s always been a good and loyal friend. But she is a bit stuck in little kid stuff. And Kate, at 12, is growing out of those sorts of things. I guess having your mom move off to Utah, and then moving in with your dad in a too-small apartment, can make you grow up faster.

Anyway, at the beginning of seventh grade, Kate is unexpectedly paired up in science class with Taylor Tobitt. The Taylor Tobitt. She’s only the prettiest and, well, most feared girl in the class. And, and out of the blue, the two become friends.

When you travel with Taylor’s group, you suddenly become someone. And Kate liked not being thought of as the too-tall, basketball-playing, odd girl. But membership in the Taylor club comes with drawbacks, too. Taylor is often smilingly sarcastic and cutting. Even to friends. And running with Taylor Tobitt means turning your back on odd former friends … like Maddie.

Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make Kate a very nice person. In a quiet place deep inside, she feels guilty about that. And then, when Taylor and the crew turn their collective sights on tormenting Maddie, Kate feels even worse. But she isn’t strong enough, or good enough, to stand up for what’s right.

However, even a not-so-great friend like Kate isn’t horrible. So when a bullying incident sends Maddie crashing through the ice on the lake, Kate leaps in to save Maddie’s life while the other Taylorites stand gaping.

A cellphone video of that daring save goes viral, and Kate is hailed as a hero. She risked life and limb to rescue her friend. News channels and internet influencers scrabble to hold Kate McAllister up as the sort of girl there should be more of. The near tragic event even pulls Maddie and Kate together again. And Kate realizes how much she’s missed the friend she pushed away.

But Kate also knows the truth. She was a very present part of the problem. She didn’t stop the bad things. She might have even caused the worst of them. And it’s only a matter of time until the full version of the video is released, and everyone else knows it too.

Christian Beliefs

Kate’s police-officer dad is Catholic and attends Mass every Sunday. He expects Kate to do as much, too. So later, when Kate talks to him about “bad karma,” he tries to talk to her about “God’s plan.” But the young girl isn’t very interested in the subject.

When Kate moves into her father’s apartment, she has to sleep in his office space that features a pull-out sofa and a painting of a “creepy Jesus” on the wall.

Other Belief Systems

Kate and the other middle school kids are very caught up in their appreciation of social media and their adoration of certain musical artists and social media influencers.

Authority Roles

Kate’s parents both love her, but her dad is obviously the most consistent of the two.

Mom leaves for Utah to pursue a heightened career selling True-U cosmetics. Mom is consumed with the business to the detriment of her daughter. She even tries to capitalize on Kate’s newfound online popularity. And when Kate’s mom is forced to return in failure, she still avoids Kate and forces Kate’s dad to cover the truth while she “gets her life in order.”

Dad, on the other hand, does his best to balance his career as a police officer and adjust to his new duties as a full-time dad. He goes to her basketball games, supports her ups and down, changes the apartment to give Kate her own space, and tries to protect his daughter from the potential security problems associated with her social media exposure.

Ultimately, Dad tells Kate that living with her has been “some of the happiest times” of his life. When the chips are down, he assures her that they’ll get through things together. And he works at helping Kate understand that people aren’t just good or bad, but a tapestry of emotions and experiences. “Hurt people hurt people,” he explains. Based on that insight, Kate later makes a choice to apologize for hurting someone, realizing that “loved people love people. And I was loved.”

A variety of other adults in Kate’s world step forward to support and encourage her. The story also looks at how difficult divorce is on children in a family.

By the story’s end, things are better for Kate, but she still pays a price for the hurtful choices she made at times. She apologizes to all involved, though Kate realizes that repairing the hurts she caused will be a long-term process. Kate’s basketball teammates step up to support her and embrace her in her time of need.

Profanity & Violence

When Maddie falls through the ice into a freezing cold lake, she flounders about in panic. Kate must use a technique she read about in a survival magazine to rescue her. Maddie is taken to hospital, suffering from hypothermia.

Sexual Content

Kate’s mother and father became pregnant out of wedlock while still in high school. Kate looks at a picture of her dad and very pregnant mom at the school prom. (They married soon after.)

Discussion Topics

Have you ever had a friend that you treated badly, or one that mistreated you? Why did that happen? The book describes Kate’s reasons for making some of the choices she does. Why do you think we make selfish choices, even when we know they’re wrong? How can we keep ourselves from doing that?

Take a look at Philippians 2:3-4. What do you think that verse means when it says, “let each esteem others better than himself”? How do we actually do that? Can God change our hearts, our minds for the better?

Kate’s dad briefly mentions “God’s plan.” What do you think that is? How can we become a part of a plan like that? How do you make brave and caring choices in your life? Do you think they can make a difference?

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Additional Comments

The Kate in Between can at first seem like a straightforward story of lost friendship. But it branches out into an engaging tale that not only asks young people to consider who they are and what they want to be, but also deals with issues of divorce, bullying, popularity, and the use and misuse of social media.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose