I’m so excited to share an excerpt from You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino, a middle grade book from one of my favorite kidlit authors, one that is especially needed right now, and comes out September 25! Here is a note from the author about the excerpt.
Jilly Pirillo, the white, hearing main character of my new book, is learning how and when to have tough conversations. This scene takes place the Tuesday after a tense Thanksgiving dinner, where several of Jilly’s family members made racist comments while Jilly listened on from the kids’ table in surprise. Aunt Alicia (the only Black adult in the house), Aunt Joanne, and their two Black children leave early. Here, Jilly and Aunt Alicia talk about that dinner, and what it means to speak out. But it’s also a casual moment of a kid and her aunt at home, with a touch of incidental queerness. I hope your readers find Jilly and her family as endearing as I do.
An Excerpt from You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!
I’ve been thinking about what I want to say to Aunt Alicia for five days, so my brain is already deep in thought mode when I toss my bag on the couch and sit at the kitchen table.
“He’s the worst!” I announce.
“What? No hello?” asks Aunt Alicia.
“Need a hug?”
“Yes!” I get up and let Aunt Alicia squeeze me, and then I give her a kiss on the cheek. She’s only a few inches taller than I am, so it’s easy to reach.
“Orange juice?” she asks.
“Yes, please.” I know how to get my own juice, but somehow it tastes a little better when Aunt Alicia pours it.
“So who’s the worst?” Aunt Alicia asks. “And try to keep it down. I just got your mom to take a nap a few minutes ago.”
“Uncle Mike!“ I whisper yell. “I’m so mad at him. And at Gram and Mom and Dad and everyone for letting him get away with it!“
She places the glass on the table and sits down next to me. “For what it’s worth, Jillybean, I’m way madder at Uncle Mike than you could ever be. And that’s not the first time he’s said stuff like that.”
“It sure does.”
Once I say how angry I am, I’m a little less angry. I take a sip of orange juice, and start thinking a thought I’ve been having since Thursday. “So can I ask a question?”
“Of course, Jillybean.”
“Well, I get that Uncle Mike was telling a messed up story, but . . .” I want to know, but I don’t want to hurt Aunt Alicia’s feelings.
She puts her hand on my shoulder. “Go ahead. Nothing changes if we don’t talk.”
“Well, what was so wrong with Gram asking you to bake a sweet potato pie? I mean, you bake the best pies in the family. Don’t tell Mom I said that.”
Aunt Alicia sighs. “And sweet potato pie is twice as good as pumpkin. Even when your mom makes it. But that’s how a lot of racism goes down these days. Now that white people can’t put up signs telling colored people where to sit and stand and live and drink water”—she rolls her eyes at the word colored and it’s like her whole head goes along for the ride—“it gets more subtle.”
“Low-key. Under the radar.”
“But she wasn’t meaning to say something racist.”
“Exactly. What Mike did was on purpose. What your Gram did wasn’t. It’s like the difference between stepping on someone’s foot by mistake and kicking them. Only one is mean, but they both hurt. Sometimes you don’t have to be trying to hurt someone. You just have to say the wrong thing.”
Like with Profound. “But what if you don’t know what the right thing is?”
“Then you do the best you can.”
“But what if you make a mistake?”
“Jillybean, if I gave up on people when they made mistakes, I’d be lonely. Real lonely.”
“Does Aunt Joanne make mistakes?”
“Lots. The closer you are to a person, the more chances there are to mess up. But we talk about it. And then usually it happens a little differently the next time. But not doing anything? That’s a problem, and one that can’t get any better because nothing changes. Progress brings some dark times, but it’s still better than not growing at all.”
“I wish I had said something at Thanksgiving.”
“You weren’t even at the table. I think when the time comes, you’ll speak up.”
“I hope so,” I say. “I’m glad we talked.”
“Me too, Jillybean.”
We sit together quietly for a moment. A good quiet, like we’re both feeling the same thing without having to talk about it.
“Now”—Aunt Alicia claps her hands—“how’s your homework situation?”
“It’s terrible,” I say. “Mr. Franks, my math teacher, seems to think that the only way we’re going to pass the final next week is if we sprain our wrists doing about a million problems.
“Sounds like fun.” Aunt Alicia grins.
“One of the kids said we’d all pass if he didn’t make the test so hard.”
“And how did that go over?”
“Not well. Mr. Franks threatened to make sure that none of the answers to the questions were whole numbers. But it’s okay. I’m pretty good at math. It’s just boring to write out all the steps.”
“Better you than me,” says Aunt Alicia. “Math was always my least favorite. That’s why I like cooking better than baking. None of that two and a quarter cups of flour nonsense for me, thank you very much.”
“But your pies are delicious!”
“Pies are different. Pies are special. Now go get your homework done. I’m going to put together a decent dinner for you folks.”
I pull my math book and my notebook out of my bag and lie out on the floor, next to Emma, who’s asleep in her playpen. I start working on problems to the sound and smell of sizzling onions.
By the time I’m finished with my homework, including a break after math and before the rest to check in on De La Court, Mom is sitting groggily on the couch, and Dad will be home any minute. Dinner is done and ready to be delicious, and Aunt Alicia is in the bathroom. Her makeup bag is on the counter and she’s been dancing to the radio, announcing whenever a song she just loves comes on, which is about half of them. Her bracelets clink together as she applies her makeup.
I lean against the bathroom doorway. “Should I text Aunt Joanne and tell her you’ll be home late?”
“I hear she’s going on a hot date of her own.” Aunt Alicia smiles from the corner of her eye. Tuesdays are their weekly date night. They say it’s the best because places are open but quiet.
Aunt Alicia puts her locks up three different ways before deciding to let them fall down her back like a waterfall.
“Do you think I should dye a few of these?” Aunt Alicia asks.
“Why am I not surprised? We’ll see. I’ve been playing with the idea.”
Aunt Alicia slips her feet into a pair of black shoes with pointy toes and even pointier heels. She raises her shoulders up to her new height.
“How do I look?” she asks.
“Aren’t those bad for your feet?”
“Terrible. Don’t tell my doctor I’m wearing them. But how do they look?”
“They look great. And you look beautiful. Aunt Joanne is lucky.”
“She’s not the only one!”
I feel pretty lucky myself to have an aunt like Aunt Alicia.
More About You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!
Jilly thinks she’s figured out how life works. But when her sister, Emma, is born deaf, she realizes how much she still has to learn. The world is going to treat Jilly, who is white and hearing, differently from Emma, just as it will treat them both differently from their Black cousins.
A big fantasy reader, Jilly makes a connection online with another fantasy fan, Derek, who is a Deaf, Black ASL user. She goes to Derek for help with Emma but doesn’t always know the best way or time to ask for it.
As she and Derek meet in person, have some really fun conversations, and become friends, Jilly makes some mistakes . . . but comes to understand that it’s up to her, not Derek to figure out how to do better next time–especially when she wants to be there for Derek the most.
Within a world where kids like Derek and Emma aren’t assured the same freedom or safety as kids like Jilly, Jilly is starting to learn all the things she doesn’t know–and by doing that, she’s also working to discover how to support her family and her friends.
With You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!, award-winning author Alex Gino uses their trademark humor, heart, and humanity to show readers how being open to
difference can make you a better person, and how being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways.
A Bit About Alex
Alex Gino loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive. They would take a quiet coffee date with a friend over a loud and crowded party any day. Alex is proud to have been an activist and advocate for LGBTQ+ communities since 1997. Born and raised on Staten Island, NY, they now enjoy living in Oakland, CA. Alex is also author of the Stonewall Award-winning middle grade novel, George.
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