Book Review: Code Red by Joy McCullough
In the spirit of Judy Blume, this empowering and heartfelt middle grade novel celebrates finding yourself, making new friends, and standing up for what’s right as a girl becomes involved in menstrual activism.
Ever since a career-ending injury, former elite gymnast Eden has been feeling lost. To add insult to actual injury, her mom has been invited to present at her middle school’s career day, which would be fine except Mom’s company produces period products like pads and tampons. Having the whole school hear about it is total humiliation. And when Eden gets into a fight with a boy who won’t stop mocking her for it, she and her classmate Maribel both end up getting suspended.
Mom’s corporate executive job means she doesn’t have time to look after Eden while she’s suspended, so Eden is sent to volunteer at the food bank Maribel’s mom runs. There, she meets new friends who open her eyes to period poverty, the struggle that low-income people with periods have trying to afford menstrual products. Eden even meets a boy who gets periods. Witnessing how people fight for fair treatment inspires Eden to join the advocacy work.
But sewing pads to donate and pushing for free access to period products puts Eden at odds with her mom. Even so, Eden’s determined to hold onto the one thing that’s ignited her passion and drive since gymnastics. Can she stand her ground and make a real difference?
This was great. It hits that hard-to-find spot of upper middle grade/lower YA just perfectly. Usually when I’m reading I’m super aware of a book being middle grade or being YA, but with this one I repeatedly had to remind myself that this is middle grade. And I don’t mean that in any disparaging way—it’s not that the book sounded too “sophisticated” for middle grade (not that I think books for that age aren’t/can’t be incredibly sophisticated) or felt untrue to the age it’s portraying etc. It just hits a great place of appealing to a wide range of ages, which is perfect because what this book is talking about is so important. And it’s talking about a lot! Not just periods and period poverty and the importance of access to period supplies! The book tackles changing friendships, challenging mother-child relationships, learning and unlearning as you meet new people and are introduced to new ideas. Eden has to figure out who she is now that she’s no longer an elite gymnast. She learns to talk a stand, put herself out there, speak up. I love that she is very firmly outside of her comfort zone in almost all ways for the entirety of the story—because that’s where you learn and grow so much, right? And her initial discomfort and hesitations fade and she becomes comfortable in new spheres, with new ideas.
And while the book is about so much more than just periods, I am SO GLAD it is so much about periods. It’s so factual, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. I love that Eden’s mother heads a huge corporation that makes menstrual products AND that Eden becomes heavily invested in creating sustainable, reusable pads and making sure that people have access to menstrual products. I have no doubt it will inspire readers to wonder how they too can help make sure these products are accessible in their schools and their communities.
A fantastic look at periods, social justice, period poverty, economic inequalities, and the power of taking action. Get this one on all shelves!
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 06/13/2023
Age Range: 8 – 14 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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