Review: Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Posted September 16, 2019 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books / 0 Comments

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Review: Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn BigelowHazel's Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
Pages: 336

“Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it illogical.”

Hazel knows all about life on Earth. She could tell you anything from what earthworms eat to how fast a turkey can run. That’s because when she’s not hanging out with her best friend, Becca, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty old encyclopedias. But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade.

Due to redistricting, she has to attend a new school where she worries no one will understand her. And at home things get worse when she discovers one of her moms is pregnant. Hazel can’t wait to be a big sister, but her mom has already miscarried twice. Hazel fears it might happen again.

As Hazel struggles through the next few months, she’ll grow to realize that if the answers to life’s most important questions can’t be found in a book, she’ll have to find them within herself.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow as an e-ARC.

Content Notes: Deals with grief over miscarriages (seen through the eyes of a sibling, but affecting the whole family), childbirth gone wrong, bullying, allusions to transphobia and some brief descriptions of transphobic bullying, suicide ideation.

To be honest, when I requested Hazel’s Theory of Evolution, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of it, but I absolutely wanted to read it asap. Hazel is the very first middle-grade book with a deliberately asexual and aromantic protagonist and, even if Hazel doesn’t find or use those words to describe herself, they’re difficult to miss as Hazel’s friends start to discover romantic feelings.

I did not, emphatically did not, expect the book to tear my heart out and cut it into tiny little pieces. I wish, above all else, that I could take this book, wrap it up in the prettiest, loveliest wrapping paper, and take it back in time to leave it somewhere only my childhood self would find it because it was, without a doubt, a book I sorely needed to read. Now or then, though it would have had more impact then.

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution leans, a little, into aroace stereotypes in that Hazel is highly scientific and doesn’t have a lot of friends, but it balances that incredibly well with its narrative. Like other great aro and ace narratives, the book works to dismantle those stereotypes every step of the way and, as the book goes on, we learn that Hazel’s lack of friends has nothing to do with who she is, and everything to do with who the class bully is and how that affects Hazel’s self-esteem.

This is such a quiet middle grade book about family and friends, as well as growing up, and learning to be brave for others and what strength you’re made of. It’s a story about discovering what matters, and who matters, and why you, too, matter. It’s a story about a young girl’s struggle to fit in a new school and dealing with the way changes can, sometimes, pile up until they’re almost overwhelming. It’s a story about dealing with grief and loss, of handling change and making mistakes.

Above all, however, it’s a story about love. Whether that’s familial or friendship or, even, romance (which Hazel has no interest in and only watches from the sidelines).

I wouldn’t advise reading this book without tissues on hand. Hazel’s struggle with grief as her whole world is (or seems to be) upended when all she wants is for things to remain the same is powerful, especially in the moments when Hazel is left reeling from unhealed wounds being torn open all over again.

I loved it, though. Her friendship with Carina and her maybe-friendship with Yosh was incredibly touching. The way Hazel learns Carina is transgender is handled gently while allowing for the way a thirteen-year-old might react to meeting someone they knew after that person has transitioned. Likewise, the way Hazel tries to learn more about Yosh’s wheelchair is handled in a way to capture the reactions a thirteen-year-old might have while making it clear where Hazel is behaving rudely.

I enjoyed how much Hazel’s sexuality wasn’t part of the narrative. Would I have liked to have seen more of it? Of course. It would’ve been amazing if the first middle grade book with an aroace character (and ownvoices for at least asexuality!) had been a story that incorporates asexuality and aromanticism more than it did, but it would have been a very different story and I’m honestly not sure I would have liked it as much. It’s a very mixed feeling.

I loved the way the book stressed that Hazel is fine the way she is, the way her mothers and friends accept her the way she is, and the way the narrative, in part because it didn’t focus on sexuality. Often, when it comes to narratives that are about the character’s asexuality or aromanticism, it’s about that character learning they are not broken and don’t need to be fixed. While that is an important message, Bigelow’s approach is to take out even the suggestion that Hazel is broken, leaving no room for that argument at all. To me that’s what made the book so powerful. By choosing to include the labels in an author’s note instead of the narrative and by choosing to leave out any suggestion that Hazel is ‘broken’ or a late-bloomer, it gives readers who need it the chance to internalise that they are not broken before being offered potential words for the feelings they resonated with.

I loved Hazel. She cares so strongly and she doesn’t always know what to do with her feelings, or herself, and she’s struggling so much. But she’s surrounded by people who love her: her mothers, her brother, her new friends, her old friend. I loved how much Bigelow managed to fit into this narrative. We learn as much about Mimi, Becca and Carina as we do about Hazel, it feels like, and it never feels like superfluous information. It all ties together in a beautiful, touching novel that I can’t wait to recommend to people looking for an emotional, intense read and for middle grade asexual and aromantic representation.

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