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Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker 

Engaging characters with a realistic portrayal of the impact of anxiety and the tightrope walk of meshing two families into one. 

It was the end of sixth grade, and Ava Louise Headly and her best friends, Emma and Kylie, were looking forward to a great summer before their move to junior high. But the week before that final day of elementary school, Ava’s father informed her that they would spend the first two weeks of the summer break in Colorado, where his new girlfriend and her daughter lived. Anyone else would have been thrilled: two weeks in the Rockies vs. the same old, same old in the farmland of Iowa, right? But Ava has an anxiety disorder, only recently diagnosed after a frightening episode during Field Day activities, and she’s unrelentingly researched how many ways she could die in Denver. 

It had always been just Ava and her dad. Her mother had died shortly after giving birth to Ava, and her father had relied on a friend of her mom’s (the lady across the street) to guide him through the early days of single parenting. Ava wasn’t jealous of The Girlfriend, as she thought of her. She didn’t even know her, and besides, her dad wasn’t invested in the relationship all that much, or was he? Still, her dad deserved to be happy, and Ava knew it was almost impossible for him to find someone in their small town. But knowing that and controlling her anxiety about the trip were two different things, and the day after school was out, she found herself on a plane headed west instead of sleeping in. 

The Girlfriend, Jenn, turned out to be gorgeous and kind and warmly welcomed Ava into her home. Her daughter, Mackenzie (who only wanted to be called “Z”), was a whirlwind of activity and snark but nice. However, almost immediately, Z let the cat out of the bag. Ava’s father hadn’t told her, but they were headed to a cabin at a mountain resort for the next ten days. The mountains were where all manner of death and destruction awaited the unwary! And what else was he not telling her? Ava was determined to do everything she could to make them cancel the trip to the cabin or cut it short and go home. 

Dad's Girlfriend and Other Anxieties is a realistic portrayal of a pre-teen dealing with not only an anxiety disorder but growing up and facing possible changes in the makeup of her family (her father’s possible remarriage, gaining a stepmother and stepsister.) And despite all of Ava’s attempts to sabotage their entire vacation and even her dad’s relationship, it’s a warm and wonderful story. 

Ava is a great character, and her anxiety has its hooks into her deep. As a result, she researches and overthinks everything. Although Ava consciously makes decisions to sidetrack everyone else’s plans but genuinely feels terrible doing it. But she faces her fears and takes brave steps to admit her actions and try to make things right. Z is a wonderful, spirited girl dealing with her own insecurities and struggles with ADHD. Jenn and Eric are both good parents who have potentially found a new partner to love and share their lives with. They have their hands full with these two girls. 

Fitting into a new situation is difficult for most people and especially tough at the pre-teen age. The story portrays the girls dealing with the possibility of their two small families becoming one and having to share their parents with new people. It dramatically explores some of the typical issues that come up, but there is a satisfactory resolution. I felt for both of these girls and the situations they were experiencing and was quite affected by some emotional scenes. 

The fun mountain resort setting is a bonus with all the cool activities going on. I loved the mud race. The young resort host, José, was an admirable role model/mentor with definite summer crush potential. 

With its engaging pre-teen characters, realistic representation of the impact of anxiety, and the tightrope walk that meshing two families can be, I recommend DAD’S GIRLFRIEND AND OTHER ANXIETIES for middle-grade readers, especially those with anxiety, ADHD, or related issues. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through NetGalley and TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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