Rating: Significant Shortcomings
Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate
Author: Esme Raji Codell
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Sahara is a writer. Or at least, she hopes to be one day. But it’s hard when she feels like she’s just nobody in particular with nothing to say. And since she got held back a year in school, she wonders how she could be a writer when she couldn’t even move on to the next grade. But then she meets Ms. Poitier (also known as Miss Pointy)—an eccentric and wise teacher who challenges the members of her class to be their best selves. Miss Pointy doesn’t seem to know any of Sahara’s history. She doesn’t know that Sahara is dumb. She doesn’t know that, in Sahara’s file, there are letters that Sahara wrote to her absent father. All she knows is that Sahara says she is a writer, and Miss Pointy believes her even when it seems like nobody else does. Not only does Miss Pointy help Sahara to see her own true self, she also changes the way that Sahara sees others. And Sahara isn’t the only one with a story.
In writing style and difficulty level, Sahara Special is definitely most appropriate for an intermediate reader. However, it does include language that is completely out of place for this age group. The language does not have a significant place in the story and does not further the plot in a way that could not be done without the language, so it seems unnecessary and forced. Considering that this book is supposed to be mostly about Sahara, it does not focus enough on her. As soon as Miss Pointy comes in, the story is mostly about a teacher’s wisdom and sass and, though that is important to the themes of the book, it feels as though Sahara gets lost. Consequently, Sahara’s character development is rushed at the end of the book, as the reader did not see it happening gradually due to the focus on other, secondary characters. However, Sahara Special does have important themes and features a lot of diversity in the classroom, so there are still valid reasons to give it a try.
*Contains moderate language.