Review: The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet

The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet

by Jake Maia Arlow

Dial Books for Young Readers (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Kathryn Hall

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There is a lot of poop in this book. Like, really a lot. But what is a middle grade novel without poop jokes? Al lives with her mom next door to her best friend Leo and his mom. She is anxious and embarrassed by everything, especially the abdominal pain and frequent urgent bloody stools which disrupt her life. The diagnosis of Crohn's disease coincides with her mother starting a romantic relationship and her best friend joining drama club and being much less available. Al comes to terms with having a chronic disease and learns to trust and communicate better with family and friends. The author has Crohn's disease, and the depiction of the the effect of the disease and the medical care is authentic and much needed representation.
There are many LGBTQ+ characters, but being lesbian, gay, bisexual or nonbinary is not presented as a problem, nor is it the focus of the book. This is healthy representation of sexual and gender minorities. It is great to see a story where being gay is not the problem, and middle school kids are realistic. I highly recommend this book, both despite and because of the poop.

Most of characters are Ashkenazi Jews with varying levels of observance. There are many mentions of a Jewish bakery and its delicacies, however, no recipes. Yiddish phrases are sprinkled throughout. Both Jewish and non-Jewish readers will be able to relate to this book, and it will increase the reader's understanding of the Jewish cultural, but not religious, experience.

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Reviewer Kathryn Hall is a retired pediatrician, lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, volunteer librarian for her synagogue and for her local LGBT+ center, and active in her local PFLAG chapter. She has a special interest in Jewish children's literature with LGBT+ content. She lives in Central California with her husband, the youngest of her three children, and two of her eight grandchildren.