Shaunta Grimes’ Center of Gravity (2020) is steeped with references to 1980s culture and aesthetics. Tessa, the novels twelve-year-old protagonist, is losing everything: her mother, her best friend, even her home in Colorado. She’s also gaining things she doesn’t want: a twenty-three-year-old stepmom who is pregnant and a beach house in California. Her pre-existing anxiety is amplified amidst all the uncertainty and change.
Once in California Tessa bonds with some local boys with trouble of heir own. This helps put her own in perspective as she slowly begins to process the changes in her life that she has no control over.
Center of Gravity is a beautifully written middle-grade novel. The themes explored, including parental loss and child abuse, are expressed though the perspective of pre-teens whose lives are tethered to those of adults in their lives. This allows for critical reflection on adult-child relationships and constraints on youth agency.