A perfectly pitched and moving story about family, friendship and having the confidence to be yourself.
Since his mum died, nothing has gone right for Lucas. He doesn’t fit in anywhere – except, perhaps, with his cats Tiger and Mowgli. He’s, therefore, filled with horror when his dad arranges for Lucas to attend summer drama club. Naturally shy, Lucas can think of nothing worse. He also can’t think of a way out. He plans to keep his head down and simply survive but things don’t work out as planned. With a bit of help from some new friends, Lucas is about to set out on a journey of self-discovery.
How to be Me is a wonderful example of a character-driven middle grade novel. On the surface Lucas has everything but, despite being super-rich, he’s actually extremely lonely and becoming increasingly withdrawn. Still grieving for his mum, he’s struggling to build any meaningful relationships. He doesn’t understand and can’t communicate with his dad, is wary of his dad’s new girlfriend, and intimidated by the prospect of drama club. The objections of the new au pair when she’s asked to work extra hours only adds to Lucas’s feelings of isolation.
This detailed characterisation – coupled with a perfectly pitched first-person voice – means we empathise with Lucas from the opening line and are immediately invested in the character arc of the book. We sympathise as he struggles to fit in at the new drama class and relief floods us as he slowly begins to make friends. I particularly liked the scenes where Keely and her brother descend on Lucas and demand to see the “ballroom” he inadvertently mentioned at drama club. I also liked the way Keely is mystified why Lucas would prefer working his socks off in her family café to staying at home. As a reader we, of course, know it’s because Lucas’s house is empty and Keely’s is full of love and laughter.
Themes around the importance of family and friends come across clearly. However, even stronger is the way the book shines a light on Lucas’s development as he overcomes his shyness, finds his own voice and finally stands up for himself. Indeed, the moving climax brought tears to my eyes.
If you enjoyed this, I’d recommend you try one of Cath Howe’s other books. Ella on the Outside won the 2018 North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award and was nominated for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Alternatively, why not try Not my Fault by Cath Howe.
Publication date: April 2021
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Cath Howe