Blog Tour Review: Ellen Outside the Lines by A. J. Sass

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An incredible coming-of-age story, perfect for anyone looking to understand identity.

Thank you so much to TBR and Beyond Tours and A.J. Sass for allowing me to be part of this experience and also providing me with a complimentary ARC and media kit!

Book Information

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Publishing Date: March 22, 2022

Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track.  Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.

Content and Trigger Warnings

For a list of warnings, tropes, and representation for this book, check out its page on BookTriggerWarnings.com.

About the Author

A. J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship can impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2020 and ALA 2021 Rainbow Book List Top 10 for Young Readers selection, and Ellen Outside the Lines (Little, Brown, 2022), the co-author of Camp QUILTBAG* with Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 2023), as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us (Knopf) and Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again (DK US & UK) anthologies. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.

Author Links:

Review (no spoilers)

If you’d like to follow along with the rest of the tour, you can find the tour schedule here.

Ellen from Outside the Lines was such an amazing story! I’m excited to see how influential this book will be for middle-grade readers who are struggling to understand identity. It also makes for a great and informative read for adults who are looking to learn more about these aspects of life.

The representation in this film was phenomenal. There were several queer characters (from gay to trans to unlabeled) as well as autistic characters, Jewish characters, and characters with ADHD. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the different perspectives and experiences that these characters had to offer.

I would have to say that one of the things I liked most about this novel was how it handled conflict. The characters in Ellen from Outside the Lines are far from perfect. They’re young pre-teens and teenagers who are, understandably, struggling to figure out how they fit into the world. Yet, each time one of them makes a mistake to the detriment of others, they are challenged (in extremely kind ways at that) and quickly begin to make amends.

The story has a bit of an open, but hopeful, ending. Not everything in life is going to go the way that you hope, but as humans, all we can really do is try our best.