The List of Things That Will Not Change

Picture of the book cover for "The List of Things That Will Not Change."

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Book Review

When Bea’s parents get a divorce, her life goes through a lot of changes. Having two homes now and a brand-new, back-and-forth daily schedule is only the least of them. There are other huge changes that she never could have expected. But Bea can always look at a green notebook her parents gave her to find a list of the things that won’t ever change. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

Plot Summary

Bea is a fairly typical young girl who, at one point, thought she lived a fairly typical life. She had a mom and a dad, and they all lived in a typical apartment in New York City. She went to a typically boring school, where she wasn’t all that great a student, but still pretty typical herself.

Yada, yada, yada.

But then one day she’s called in for a family meeting with Mom and Dad. And in the space of a “New York minute” everything starts changing in her life. The first thing hits her like a sledgehammer when she finds out her parents are getting a divorce! And at the same time, she learns that her dad is gay!

Over the course of the next few days, weeks and years, change happens all the time. She now has two homes, two rooms, two beds, two pets. And she has a new schedule … for everything. Then her dad gets a boyfriend named Jesse, and then they get engaged. And that means she’s going to have a new sister, too. But her mom is left out of family outings with her aunt, uncle and cousins. And Bea can’t help but miss having her there—there are so many reminders of Mom that seemingly only Bea can see.

On top of those swirling changes, Bea starts feeling angry and sad in ways she isn’t used to. She starts doing angry things to kids at school. Her eczema is flaring up, like, all the time. And she has to start seeing Miriam, a therapist who helps her think through things and adjust to the changes in her life.

Besides Miriam, though, there’s one other thing that helps Bea quite a lot. It’s a small, green, spiral notebook with a green pen (her favorite color, by the way) that her parents gave her during that fateful family meeting back when she was 8. In it her parents wrote down a list of “things that would never change.”

“There’s still a lot you can count on,” Bea’s dad told her when he handed her the notebook. And when she turned the first page she saw six things listed in Mom’s even hand.

  1. Mom loves you more than anything, always.
  2. Dad loves you more than anything, always.
  3. Mom and Dad love each other, but in a different way.
  4. You will always have a home with each of us.
  5. Your homes will never be far apart.
  6. We are still a family, but in a different way.

 

Those six things help. Bea reads them over and over again when things are hard. And she slowly expands the list herself when things are good.

Life is filled with so many changes. Some good, some not so much. But it’s definitely good to find things that stay the same. Those are things Bea keeps an eye out for.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

One character blames a painful event on karma.

Authority Roles

Bea’s parents are both loving and kind toward each other. Dad owns a restaurant, for instance, and regularly delivers boxed-up meals for Bea and her Mom to eat after the divorce. And Mom openly encourages Bea’s dad’s second marriage (though it’s evident that it’s a little painful for her). Both parents are also very loving and supportive with Bea and they try to sensitively ease her through difficult transitions.

Other parents at school, however, aren’t as understanding when it comes to some of Bea’s emotional flair ups.

Miriam, a therapist, is a different kind of authority figure in Bea’s life who quietly listens to the young girl, asks gentle questions, and gives her useful ways to navigate the changes in her life. She helps Bea “think two steps ahead” when faced with angry situations with friends. And she suggests that when Bea wants to angrily cry out, “I hate this!” that might be covering up other feelings of being afraid or being unsure of how to react to something.

Dad’s fiancé, Jesse, is also a gentle, caring person who goes out of his way to help Bea know that she’s loved and supported.   

Profanity & Violence

No foul language, though one angry young woman reins herself in and says that she has a number of “not nice” words she wants to use.

Bea makes some angry choices on several occasions—generally when she’s feeling stressed about things or can’t quite work out her emotions—and she ends up pushing, shoving and hitting a few kids. In one case her actions almost seriously hurt someone.

Bea uses an eczema cream to deal with itchy, sometimes bleeding skin rashes.

Sexual Content

Bea’s dad declares that he’s gay after telling Bea that he and Bea’s mother are getting a divorce. And Jesse, Dad’s boyfriend/fiancé, was married before coming out as gay, too. The book takes pains to encourage readers see that both divorce—and the men coming to grips with their homosexuality—were good things. We see how Bea quickly accepts the truth of that.

Those who raise questions or object to the rightness of Dad and Jesse’s relationship are clearly depicted as mean, misguided and, in one character’s case, clearly hateful. Jesse’s sister drives that point home to Bea saying, “There are some people who will make you choose between who you are and who they want you to be. You have to watch out for those people.” Bea’s dad and Jesse eventually marry. And Bea uses that as the capstone to her story about change, family, understanding and love.  

Discussion Topics

Even though Bea tried outwardly to take her parent’s divorce in stride, how do you think she was feeling down deep? Why? How does this book treat the idea of divorce? What do you think about it? Do you think seeking counseling or working with a therapist during painful, stressful times can be helpful? How did Bea’s therapist help her? Could you use some of the therapist’s suggestions in your life at school?

How do you think Bea felt about her dad’s new relationship? Was the book encouraging you to think a certain way about that kind of relationship? How did it want you to think about people who disagree with gay marriage? How should you deal with people, even if you don’t agree with the choices they make?

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

This middle grade novel is a sometimes-funny, sometimes-poignant exploration of realistic situations that kids can find themselves a part of these days—especially when it comes to the painful process of divorce and the need to rely on loving family members. And parents may well be drawn to this book because of author Rebbeca Stead, who has won numerous children’s book awards such as the Newberry Medal and the Guardian Prize for Children’s Fiction.

But parents should also take careful note that this is book unapologetically focused on the encouragement and ready acceptance of a gay lifestyle. It’s also critical of anyone who doesn’t offer similar acceptance. The book doesn’t openly address or criticize Christians who might have convictions that preclude them from embracing and affirming homosexuality. But it seems quite clear how the characters in this book would respond to a someone who holds such convictions—and it’s not with openness or acceptance.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

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

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