*Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

Just Like That, Gary Schmidt’s latest book for teens, humorously and poignantly explores love and loss.

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion, 2021. 400 pages.

Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12 and up

Recommended For: Young Adult, ages 12 and up

cover of Just Like That by Gary Schmidt

In September, Meryl Lee Kowalski arrives at St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls (in Harpswell, Maine), suitcases packed with regulation school uniforms.

She would have a new start, her parents said. A whole new routine, her parents said. She would meet so many new friends. She would become so Accomplished. That’s what the headmistress had promised.

~p. 4

By Christmas, Meryl Lee still wasn’t sure what she becoming Accomplished in, even though she was urged to have Resolve. It certainly wasn’t lacrosse. It wasn’t English class because her English teacher thought Meryl Lee’s reading choices (The Grapes of Wrath and The Wizard of Oz) weren’t Refined. And, apparently, those promised new friends weren’t supposed to include the staff girls, only the actual students at St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls.

By September, Matt Coffin had already been living in Harpswell, Maine, for some time. A teen on the run, he’d just showed up at some point and moved into Captain Cobb’s old shack by the water. And by September, Mrs. MacKnockater, the aforementioned headmistress, had taken Matt under her wing, feeding him with both food and stories.

Parallel stories have a way of converging, and Matt’s and Meryl Lee’s stories are no different. Schmidt’s latest novel connects characters from both The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Picking up directly after The Wednesday Wars (and several decades after Lizzie Bright), Just Like That poignantly brings together people who are wounded and in desperate need of hope and friendship. Meryl Lee does indeed become Accomplished through much Resolve, and Matt quits running. But they bring many people along with them on the road to redemption and reconciliation. I once heard Schmidt say that he writes about that pivotal time when young people are in the midst of turning from childhood to adulthood; they are standing on the threshold, as it were. Just Like That might be the pitch perfect novel for that sweet spot, full of humor and heartbreak, young love and old love, national turmoil (the Vietnam War) and small town upheaval. It will break your own heart on page 2, but healing occurs over the next 398 pages. (NOTE: if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t read the comments on this post!)


  • Although this book might technically be a “middle grades” novel, it explores significant emotional issues in such a way that most young readers will better appreciate the book as a young teen than an upper “middle grade” student. For those familiar with Schmidt’s work, this book is more like Okay for Now than The Wednesday Wars in maturity level.
  • There is some kissing in this book. (It’s very teen-friendly, but it might be the first time I’ve encountered this dynamic in a Schmidt work, Orbiting Jupiter aside.)
  • This book opens with the death of a friend of Meryl Lee’s; Matt also suffered the (violent) death of loved ones prior to the story’s opening. Much of the book centers on grief and its effects.
  • A couple of instances of bad language, but they are in keeping with the plot/character.
  • Discussion points include: when is it okay to hide the truth from the authorities (including “official” authorities like the police, but also including general adult authorities)? When is it okay to protest the authorities and rules? What does a true friend look like? How can we be true friends? (hint: this has a lot to do with “how can we love our neighbors?”) Finally, “what is our only comfort in life and in death?

Overall Rating: 4.75 out of 5

  • Worldview/Moral Rating: 4.75 out of 5
  • Literary/Artistic Rating: 5 out of 5

*indicates a starred review

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Rachel on February 11, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for another great review. My 12/13yo loves to read, but is drawn to YA due to maturing early because of life situations. This is the second time I know thanks to your review that she will devour and appreciate a book that she can relate to both with age appropriate content and a story that will speak to her heart-age.

    I do need to buy from Amazon.ca so if you could have that as an option for your affiliate program I may be able to help you next time the book hits the mark and I buy it immediately. 🙂

    • Betsy Farquhar on February 11, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Ooh, interesting note about amazon.ca! Thanks! And I’m so glad our reviews are helpful!

  2. Lou Hunley on February 21, 2021 at 5:03 am

    I can’t believe Gary Schmidt killed off Holling HoodHood !

  3. Amy on July 23, 2022 at 7:12 am

    I have loved each and every Gary D. Schmidt book. He gives me all the feels. But I am troubled by the way nearly all of the parents in his books are the antagonists while nearly all of the protagonists in his books are teachers or other adults in similar capacities.

    Society in general is making modern parenting exponentially more difficult anyway. We don’t need beloved authors to contribute to the mess.

    Furthermore, the books aren’t representative of society at large. I had TWO superb teachers over my eighteen years of education. Probably 70% of them were decent, but really just there to do the work, earn the paycheck and go home to their OWN families. I don’t fault them for that — it’s the same reason I work. They did the work. Probably 28% or so of my teachers were downright terrible. I realize my experience is anecdotal, but I had teachers who taught truly horrific things and told us not to go home and tell our parents because our parents were racist homophobes who wouldn’t understand. I had teachers who acted inappropriately flirtatiously with students, including me. Students regularly lit things on fire (I had a friend burned by a firework at school), climbed out of windows, bullied each other, had sexual relations on campus and worse all in the course of a day at my school, right under the teacher’s noses.

    That leaves 2% (rough estimate) of truly excellent teachers, but even then I’m still not talking Nockater quality or Mrs. Baker quality. Even the excellent teachers have families of their own and worries of their own and a life outside of school. They genuinely cared about their students and they worked diligently to educated them, but still those relationships remained within the four walls of the school — as they should.

    If you think it sounds like I attended a dangerous, inner-city school, you would be wrong. I lived in a middle-class neighborhood in a religious and politically conservative city/county/state and attended the local government schools.

    My parents fed, clothed, taught and disciplined me. They loved me despite my shenanigans. Were they busy and did I sometimes feel unloved? Sure? I’m human. Were they perfect? No, and they’ll be the first to admit it. They’re human. My mom read aloud to me every night. She made me chicken soup when I was sick. My teachers didn’t and nobody expected them to, so that’s perfectly okay.

    I wouldn’t feel troubled had there been an occasional excellent teacher and an occasional terrible parent in Mr. Schmidt’s books, because that would reflect real life. But when ALL of his books consistently portray parents in a negative light and teachers or outside authorities as the saviors, I wonder if Mr. Schmidt hasn’t just joined the anti-parent crusade in an attempt to destroy families.

    As a parent myself now I truly feel the enmity of those crusaders toward me AND toward my children. I don’t need to invite them into my home and give them a seat at my table. There are so many beautiful, uplifting, family-friendly books out there, like the Betsy, Tacy stories. As much as I will miss Doug, Holling, Meryl and the others, I don’t know that Mr. Schmidt’s books deserve a place on my bookshelves any longer.

    • Betsy Farquhar on July 25, 2022 at 9:21 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful reflections on Schmidt’s books! I haven’t come away from his books with an anti-parent agenda (in fact, I believe Schmidt has 6 children of his own, and, given how reclusive he is as an author in terms of social media and the like, I hope he’s spending that time with his family).

      I’ve wondered if Schmidt’s own upbringing has come out in his books some, but one thing I’ve appreciated in his books is that there IS a strong “father figure” in them, even when the father himself isn’t. I don’t always agree with how he presents the parents, but I do like that it’s not only women who are the saving graces. I’ve met Schmidt, and in the talk I attended, he described writing for adolescents who have one foot at home and one foot in the adult world; in other words, he’s trying to capture that coming-of-age moment when teens are (rightly) beginning to leave home. That’s a big difference between these books (and other YA books) and books like the Melendy quartet and the Betsy-Tacy books. In fact, it’s “the” distinction between children’s and young adult novels: in children’s books, the protagonists are still at home at the end; in YA books, the protagonist has left, or is maturing in their own sense of self as distinct from their parents. That’s why we’ve suggested these novels for upper middle school and up. The books wrestle with big issues and just aren’t appropriate for younger kids. When compared with other YA books, I find Schmidt’s books to be respectful of authority figures while simultaneously showing the protagonist’s growing awareness of the humanity of authority figures, to show the need for authority figures (even when parents are total deadbeats, like the dad in Okay For Now), and to show a kid actually maturing in his or her understanding of the world instead of merely giving in to teen impulses. So, perhaps that will help if you compare Schmidt’s books to others targeting the same age group as his books target, instead of books that are geared for younger ages? Still, we very much believe here at Redeemed Reader that parents and educators need to make the best decisions they can for THEIR situation and we know not everyone will agree with us or make the same decisions about books. We love it when readers are really thinking about the books they’re reading with and to their children.

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