A Work in Progress

by Jarrett Lerner

c.2023, Aladdin $17.99 368 pages

You are a work of art.

Your skin is a palette of shadow and light, like a fine pencil drawing. The color of your eyes can’t be duplicated, even by the best painter. Shades of softness top your head, your smile flashes white, you frame it all with personality. But as in the new book “A Work in Progress” by Jarrett Lerner, one bad (re)mark can ruin it all.

By middle school, Nick Fisher had probably forgotten about what he said. It happened three years ago, after all, and it was undoubtedly just another day for him then. But Will Chambers would never, ever forget. Right in front of everybody, Nick called Will “FAT.”

It wasn’t like Will had never noticed, right? It was clear that everybody in his school was skinny, including the teachers. Even his parents were thin but Will liked to eat and he didn’t think that was a problem. Neither did his friends but after Nick said what he said, Will was embarrassed and he kinda stopped being friends with Dave and Andrew and Devin.

He stopped eating lunch with them because who wanted to sit with a FAT kid?

He started asking his Mom to buy him outfits that were baggy, to hide the FAT.

He stopped eating his favorite foods, but that just made him hungrier.

Mostly, Will spent time in his room, in a corner of the lunchroom, or in the alley where nobody would bother him or look at his body, and he drew pictures in his notebook. He might be too FAT to make friends and he might be too FAT to talk to Jules, the prettiest girl in school, but he was good at drawing.

But then Will – much to his surprise and kinda by accident – made a friend. Markus was a new kid in school, he was cool, he said his family moved a lot, and he acted like he didn’t notice Will’s FAT. Would Will ever get confidence like that?

Pick up “A Work in Progress,” page through it, and you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of reading in it. Despite the page count, the story’s small and it repeats a lot, probably more than most adults would tolerate. But this book isn’t for adults, so no problem.

Your 8-to-12-year-old, though, might be intimately familiar with what’s inside author Jarrett Lerner’s story – especially if they’re different from other kids, bullied, nerdy, non-athletic, overly-teased, or self-conscious. Awkward kids will truly understand what Lerner’s Will is experiencing. LGBTQ kids have heard the laughter, and this is surely nothing new to kids who are overweight. What is new is the comfort they’ll find here.

Still, it’s possible that the repetition in this tale will turn some kids off, and its slower pace may cause others to flee. Parents will also want to know that the themes inside here practically scream for conversation, so skim it well before giving your child “A Work in Progress.” The kid who most needs this book will be drawn to it.