Review: Where You've Got to Be

Where You've Got to Be

by Caroline Gertler

Greenwillow Books, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

Nolie has always felt like she lives in the shadow of her accomplished older sister Linden. Though Linden is just 12 years old, she’s ambitious and well on her way to becoming a star ballerina (and a really moody pre-teen). Eleven-year-old Nolie, on the other hand, feels adrift as she hasn’t yet discovered anything she’s passionate about, and her busy parents fuss over Linden all the time. Adding to her worries is Nolie’s best friend Jessa, who wants to be “cool” in sixth grade and seems willing to leave Nolie behind to do so. Caroline Gertler’s second novel, Where You’ve Got to Be, is a compassionate story about adolescence, identity, and the bonds that both heal us and challenge us. Nolie, in her quest to have something of her own, steals items from friends and family members. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she is desperate to find something to hold onto, something that may anchor her and bring her good luck. Gertler’s characters are deeply drawn, and readers will want to alternately scold and hug Nolie, Linden, and even Jessa as the story progresses. Nolie is flawed in ways that all 11-year-old children are flawed, and it’s that realistic portrayal of awkwardness and tangled decision-making that readers will easily identify with.

The story is infused with strong Jewish representation. Nolie and Linden’s Jewishness pervades the novel but never overwhelms the story. The book takes place during the High Holiday season, and references to Jewish food, customs, and traditions are frequent. The intended tween audience will get a lot out of this story, especially girls who are wrestling with what it means to accept yourself and find your place in the world. Where You’ve Got to Be should be a strong contender for recognition from the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.
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Reviewer Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with 30+ years of experience in middle grade education. She holds Master's Degrees from Columbia University and Kent State University, and is an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut middle grade novel, The Prince of Steel Pier, was published on September 1, 2022, from Kar-Ben Books. The Prince of Steel Pier is a PJ Our Way choice book for October 2022. Stacy lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Richie, and their perfect cat, Queen Esther. Find her on Twitter @snockowitz or visit