Reviews /

Just Like Everyone Else

Authored by Sarah Hagger-Holt
Illustrated by Cover illustrations by Olivia Daisy Coles
Published by Usborne Publishing Ltd

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13-year-old Aidan wants to be just like everyone else.  The oldest of five children, and the only boy amongst his siblings, his family life is lively in their crowded, but loving home. Aidan’s passion for running is a refuge, a time to escape the chaos and pressures of his everyday life. But Aidan isn’t just running in the physical sense, he is also running from some truths about himself – his identity and sexuality. When he finds out that his mother has offered to be a surrogate for Justin and Atif, Aidan is worried that his friends and family will discover that he, himself, is gay. Aidan struggles to come to terms not only with his mum’s surrogacy, but also with his own sexual identity.

Personally, I have not read a book with the theme of surrogacy and it was refreshing to see this representation alongside different family constructs. Sarah Hagger-Holt writes with honesty, sharing her thoughts on LGBTQ+ parenting from her own perspective. Her intention to widen the representation of a variety of family make-ups has really hit the mark with this latest novel and it would be a welcome text in any middle grade or YA collection.

I particularly enjoyed the varied relationships explored in the book. Justin and Atif are desperate to welcome a child to their family. Their interaction with Aidan’s family helps the reader to see what this type of blended family construct, from surrogacy, might look like.  Aidan’s parents are somewhat secondary characters in the novel (especially his dad), but they are an ever-present force of support and provide something of a moral compass for him as he navigates his challenges. Aidan’s friendship with Jake is also an interesting dynamic – helping to combat gay stereotypes. Jake helps Aidan to come to terms with who he is by being so openly accepting of himself. The 360-degree support from friends and family is refreshing and a great novel for teens and tweens navigating difficult situations.

Ultimately, this is a story of self-acceptance – appreciating who we are as individuals, understanding and respecting the choices of others. The way in which the main character navigates the choices he faces in his own life provides the reader with a unique view of thoughts and worries – normalising the different feelings that we can experience. Jake’s advice to Aidan is sound – ‘You don’t have to be like anyone else. You just have to be you, and at some point you have to be brave enough to let other people see who that person really is.’ What a wonderful message to share!

Longlisted for the Spark Book Awards 2024 Fiction 11+ Category

Shortlisted for the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2024