As the new girl at her Madison, Wis., middle school, Anna Hunt isn’t surprised to be sitting alone in the cafeteria. But another eighth grader—Rachel Riley— is too, and when Anna finds that Rachel used to be one of the grade’s most popular girls, she wants to know what happened. Anna, who wants to be “the next Sarah Koenig,” frames her investigation as a podcast, hoping to apply to a summer camp with the results: an exploration of “bullying. Social classes.... A middle school caste system.” But no one will talk, not even Rachel, who admits she knows the reason behind her being ostracized. In a quietly suspenseful book, Swinarksi (The Kate in Between) uses Anna’s emails with her beloved Polish grandmother, as well as her thoughts and interactions at home and school, to give readers a good sense of the 12-year-old, who’s a year younger than her classmates, and happier reading than socializing. Amid universal discouragement, Anna keeps asking awkward questions, eventually garnering help from classmates and her computer-genius older sister. With a slow reveal, the novel shows how frequently written-off behavior can constitute sexual harassment, and how individuals can create change by having the courage to question the narrative. Most characters read as white. Ages 8–12. Agent: Alex Slater, Trident Media Group. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"What Happened to Rachel Riley has every single thing a middle grade reader could want: a twisty mystery; relatable, authentic teen characters; and the kind of demonstrated courage that seeps into our souls and leaves us feeling brave. This book is going to change lives." — Carrie Firestone, author of Dress Coded
"What begins as a look into bullying and the social politics of middle school expands into a revealing study of sexual harassment. An empowering and empathetic companion to Barbara Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You and Brigit Young's The Prettiest." — Booklist (starred review)
"This book is incredibly relevant and empowering for readers, and would serve as a powerful conversation starter. Swinarski’s writing is compelling and multifaceted, tackling themes of friendship, betrayal, and harassment beautifully, while keeping them accessible to middle schoolers. Hand to fans of Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You." — School Library Journal (starred review)
"Both timely and, unfortunately, timeless in its depiction of systemic sexual harassment and and frustratingly inappropriate reactions from authority figures and peers. This compelling novel urges readers to consider what they might do in similar situations and reminds them that 'sometimes, fairness has to be demanded instead of waited for.'" — BookPage.com (starred review)
"A good fit for classroom or book club reading and discussion [and] a useful addition to the pool of middle-grade books about sexual harassment at school." — Kirkus Reviews
"In a quietly suspenseful book, Swinarski shows how frequently written-off behavior can constitute sexual harassment, and how individuals can create change by having the courage to question the narrative." — Publishers Weekly
"The unraveling mystery is compelling. Pair this with Maybe He Just Likes You for a much-needed conversation with middle schoolers about harassment." — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
author of Dress Coded Carrie Firestone
This book is going to change lives.”
How did the most popular girl in school become persona non grata?
New kid and aspiring podcaster Anna Hunt could have taken the easy route for her social issues assignment about any subject that was important to her. But somehow Anna always comes back to the question, “What happened to Rachel Riley?” Does it have anything to do with the mysterious game the boys have been playing? Anna’s investigation unfolds in emails, text threads, personal narratives, articles, and voice recordings as she asks difficult questions, struggles to make friends, and questions how and if the world can change for the better. Ultimately, Anna’s un-essay explores sexual harassment between middle school peers, specifically boys giving each other points for slapping girls’ butts and snapping their bra straps. As in Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You (2019), there’s social pressure to stay silent and laugh it all off as a joke. Given the central focus on teasing apart this issue, it’s understandable that many of the characters lack depth. Anna’s mother emigrated from Poland, and Anna is bilingual; some supporting characters have names that point to non-European heritage. With its highlighting of fun and educational facts, the writing style and subject matter make this a good fit for classroom or book club reading and discussion.
A useful addition to the pool of middle-grade books about sexual harassment at school. (Fiction. 10-13)