I’ve enjoyed several middle grade novels by author Gillian McDunn. Back in 2019 it was CATERPILLAR SUMMER followed by last year’s THESE UNLUCKY STARS. Ms. McDunn’s focus is always on the main character trying to understand themselves in a world that often refuses to understand them. Those two stories focused mostly on a female character, but with her newest we meet HONESTLY ELLIOTT and it’s a memorable ride.

Elliott has been struggling since his closest friend moved away, and he’s not too sure where he fits into his own family, especially since his newly remarried dad and stepmom are expecting a baby. His grades aren’t too great, he’s always forgetting things, and he doesn’t really like sports. All together, the result is someone the complete opposite of his dad–a fact they’re both very aware of. Elliott’s only solace is cooking, where he can control the outcome, testing exciting recipes and watching his favorite cooking shows.

When he’s paired with the super smart and popular Maribel for a school-wide project, Elliott worries they won’t see eye to eye. But Maribel is also looking for a new way to show others her true self and this project could be the chance they’ve both been waiting for. Sometimes the least likely friends help you see a new side to things . . . and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes before you figure out what’s right.

Elliott’s first person narration is often heartbreaking with doses of humor and passion for the cooking he loves. Here’s a sample:

My insides feel heavy, like a hunk of overcooked oatmeal. Meanwhile, my brain starts going in six hundred directions. Six hundred things blocking my way to culinary camp. Six hundred reasons for Dad to be disappointed in me.

I have to think of something.

His feelings are a perfect view of a boy living with ADHD. Elliott’s sixth grade year is off to a rocky start. He goes through what many kids experience living in a two-home existence with Mom during the week and Dad on weekends. She supports him in her own special way, but his father hasn’t connected with the way Elliott acts, especially with his passion of cooking.

The 39 chapters fly by with a hopefulness for growth and change in all the characters. One thing I didn’t like was the use of footnotes—36 of them. They are great in non-fiction but always slow my reading down in contemporary fiction, having to look down for a few seconds at the footnote before finding the spot where I left off. It just doesn’t flow as well, but that’s just me.

Honestly Elliott is an honest and enjoyable trip into a sixth grade boy’s journey to succeed.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: March 1, 2022 PAGE COUNT: 288


  1. On the cover Elliott is holding one of his masterpieces, a Desperation Pie, You become very familiar with how to make one, but what a treat to find the recipe for the filling and crust printed in the back pages. I’ll be trying this one out for sure.
  2. Having Elliott team up with Maribel will have you thinking there’s no way this is going to work. Their learning styles are complete opposites as is their popularity. What brings them together is not only the cooking but Maribel’s own health challenges and they see each other beyond how others see them,
  3. The well done look at how a new sibling, a half brother in this case, can bring about many hurtful and worried feelings.
  4. Family and friendship are the focus of middle graders and the story line here wraps them up in a gift to be read by all.
  5. An understanding of ADHD and how it effects the learner is a marvelous outcome of this story. You get a few insights into the treatment used but it never is the focus of the story. Maybe it could be explored more in a sequel.


GILLIAN McDUNN is the author of Caterpillar Summer, The Queen Bee and Me, These Unlucky Stars, Honestly Elliott, and the forthcoming When Sea Becomes Sky. Her books have received various honors and awards including Best Books of the Year by Kirkus and Parents Magazine, chosen as Junior Library Guild gold standard selections, and nominated to eight state reading lists, including the Texas Bluebonnets Master List. Her most recent book, Honestly Elliott, received four starred reviews.

​Gillian loves to do crosswords with very sharp pencils, visit different beaches, bake gluten-free treats, and spend time with her family.  Visit Gillian at www.gillianmcdunn.com or on Instagram/Twitter @gillianmcdunn 


Comments are welcome below. I received a copy of the book to use for my honest review.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, New Release and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. schmelzb says:

    I can’t wait to read this novel. Your review is of great interest to me.
    Thanks, Greg.

  2. I’m with you on the footnotes, Greg, but it sounds a good read, and a great topic! Thanks for the review!

  3. I don’t love footnotes in fiction either. You’ve got me excited to read this one. Thanks!

  4. carolbaldwin says:

    Thanks for the review. I agree with you about footnotes–however tempting it may be for for the author, it is distracting to the reader. Just forwarded this to my favorite Eilliott. He’ll enjoy your review.

  5. A boy who loves to cook as a main character in a book — fabulous! After all, look how many great male chefs there are. I like how you say the author portrays ADHD in the story. This story has so many family themes that kids will easily relate to. Will be looking for this story! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Danielle Hammelef says:

    I read and enjoyed this book as an ARC. It definitely made me hungry. I’d forgotten about the footnotes–not a fan of them in fiction either. I’d prefer a humorous quip in parentheses instead.

  7. Thanks for sharing this one. I’ll have to check it out. I happen to love pie and that pie on the front looks delicious!

  8. This sounds great! I’m putting it way up on my TBR list. I love unlikely pairings. They are always interesting. And that line, “Six hundred reasons for Dad to be disappointed in me.” just breaks my heart. I have to get this book. Thanks for a stellar review, Greg.

  9. I haven’t heard of this one before- but I have a lot of students that I think would love this. I will have to read it soon. Elliot sounds like a great character. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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