I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One, Hazel doesn’t have many friends in middle school. The only person who willingly talks to her is Tyler Harris, a popular boy who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his true feelings with any of his real friends. Hazel is convenient, though, because who is she going to tell? She tolerates this, even though she really wants to focus on winning the upcoming speech competition. However, everything changes when her speech rival, Ella Quinn, confides in her that Tyler has been harassing her online. Horrified, Hazel decides to prove what Tyler has been doing, no matter what.
This book is so, so good, and so, so important.
The characters are wonderful, each one full of so much personality. I loved Hazel’s development, from realizing that she can’t always depend upon first impressions to how she learns that adults don’t always have children’s best interests at heart. I also really liked her bond with Ella Quinn and Riley, the two girls she teams up with. Their friendship is so sweet and grows so naturally. The other characters, from Tyler to the teachers to Hazel’s parents, are all well written, too.
Obviously the subject matter of this book—sexual harrassment—is quite serious, but Horne handles it brilliantly. Nothing is too graphic for a middle grade audience, but it’s also made clear just how scared and helpless Ella feels in this situation. I think having it be from an outside perspective was a good choice, as Hazel certainly feels distressed but is still a step removed from it all. It allows both people who have and who have not experienced this kind of harassment to relate.
I also think that showing the varying reactions of the adults was handled in an excellent way. Everything feels realistic, which is at times troubling and other times comforting. You feel as if you’re reading a real account of something that happened recently, rather than a fictional story. Horne is careful to show the different perspectives on the situation—we see teachers blame Ella for the harassment simply because she chose to have social media; we see students who were harassed by the same boy who are unwilling or unable to do anything about it; we see a school principal shrug off everything because they do not believe that a young girl could go through something like this at her age.
But we also see Hazel and Riley, who never falter in their belief in Ella’s honesty. We see Hazel’s parents, who make missteps and take a while to learn what is going on but who immediately stand by their daughter and her friend. We see a school administrator instantly believe a frightened student who is in need of help, and how steps are taken to help her.
Moreover, most of the characters who don’t do everything right are not vilified. The girls who can’t come forward are treated with compassion, and there is even some understanding given to the teachers who can’t conceive of tweens acting like this. It’s a very nuanced, mature way to view this situation. And the perpetrator Tyler is given a voice, though he is certainly not rewarded or made a martyr; Horne makes it clear that he is clearly in the wrong. Surprisingly, I appreciate that the ending of the story (spoilers, I guess) is left a little ambiguous in terms of if Tyler will face any tangible repercussions. It feels true to life, but also not without hope that he will both have consequences and will learn from all this.
Ultimately, this novel is a testament to the power of young people’s voices in the face of injustice and cruelty. It tackles a difficult topic with maturity, wisdom, and sensitivity. The characters are fantastic, the relationships wonderful, and the story compelling. And despite all the seriousness, this novel still feels light in a way—there’s so much heart and humor and hope. I highly recommend this!
Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One will be published on October 18th, 2022!