Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
A hilariously honest book about surviving middle school while navigating a chronic illness from the Stonewall Honor-winning author of Almost Flying.

Twelve-year-old Al Schneider is too scared to talk about the two biggest things in her life:

1. Her stomach hurts all the time and she has no idea why.
2. She’s almost definitely 100% sure she likes girls.

So she holds it in…until she can’t. After nearly having an accident of the lavatorial variety in gym class, Al finds herself getting a colonoscopy and an answer—she has Crohn’s disease.

But rather than solving all her problems, Al's diagnosis just makes everything worse. It’s scary and embarrassing. And worst of all, everyone wants her to talk about it—her overprotective mom, her best friend, and most annoyingly her gastroenterologist, who keeps trying to get her to go to a support group for kids with similar chronic illnesses. But, who wants to talk about what you do in the bathroom?

The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet is a wildly funny and honest story about finding community, telling the truth even when it’s hard, and the many indignities of middle school life.
© Zareen Johnson
Jake Maia Arlow is a podcast producer, writer, and bagel connoisseur. They studied evolutionary biology and creative writing (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College. They live with their girlfriend and their loud cat in the Pacific Northwest. View titles by Jake Maia Arlow
Chapter One
AN UNFORTUNATE GURGLE
Some “scientists” claim that everybody poops.
Which might be true, but I have a hard time believing it.
I’m not saying I want to see some proof, because that would be disgusting. But if everybody poops . . . how come no one talks about it?
And even if everybody does poop—which, as I mentioned, I don’t believe—I’m pretty sure no one on Earththinks about pooping as much as me. Not because I want to think about it—I don’t. I’d rather think about anything else, such as being mauled by a walrus or having my face eaten by a bunch of tiny cute mice.
But the problem is, my body makes me think about it. My stomach hurtsall the time—at home, at school—and especially during gym class.
I wish that my brain didn’t have to be attached to my body. Having flesh and bones and arms and legs and intestines is the cause of almost all my problems. If I were just a brain in a jar connected to a supercomputer, I’d never worry about having stomach pain or pooping or doing something embarrassing. No one would be able to tell if I was a kid or an adult or someone with a messed-up stomach or a normal one. No one would be able to tell if I was a girl or a boy or maybe something else.
But I’m not a supercomputer, so I have to run laps.
“Do you think the Addisons sweat at all?” That’s Leo. He’s not a fan of gym either.
We’ve been walking around the track for like fifteen minutes, and at this point my pit stains have pit stains.
All the other gym classes got to stay inside today, but Mr. DiMeglio used to be a professional wrestler, so he’s really hard on us. He doesn’t care that it’s a hundred million degrees on the track.
“No, definitely not,” I whisper to Leo, watching as the Addisons—Madison and Addison—lap us for the second time. “They’re robots.”
Madison and Addison (yes, those are really their names, and yes, it’s annoying) are best friends, and they’re both super athletic. They never post pictures on IG without each other, and all their posts get a ton more likes than everyone else in seventh grade, and sometimes more than people in eighth.
Leo and I are not friends with the Addisons. We’re pretty much only friends with each other.
“Wanna know what my Italian teacher told us last period?” Leo asks as we walk to the outermost lane of the track to let everyone pass us.
“That you should’ve taken Spanish with me?”
He rolls his eyes. “No, he said it’s the language of opera.” Leo turns to me and grins, and then, when he’s sure no one’s listening, he imitates an opera singer, arms outstretched. “CIAO, MI CHIAMO LEOOOOOO.”He sings it so that only I can hear, and I can’t help but laugh.
“What does that even mean?”
He slips his hands into his khaki shorts’ pockets. He never changes for gym if he can help it, and I don’t blame him. I always wear shorts or sweatpants and a T-shirt on gym days and then swap whatever shirt I wore to school for a baggier, dirtier one that hides my body.
“It means ‘Hi, my name is Leo,’” he tells me. “It’s the only thing I know how to say in Italian so far.”
We both lose it at that, giggling so hard that we have to stop walking.
“Leonard! Alison! This isn’t the mall! I want to see you jog!” Mr. DiMeglio shouts at us from his lawn chair. Yup, hislawn chair.
Leo and I cringe. Neither of us likes our real first names—we’re Leo and Al, thank you very much, but Mr. DiMeglio never calls us that.
I swing my arms a little so it looks like I’m jogging, but Leo actuallystarts jogging, so I run to catch up.
“I hate him,” he mutters. “ ‘This isn’t the mall’? Who says that? What does that evenmean?”
“Don’t listen to him,” I tell Leo. “Remember when they fired him from Positive Youth Development for being too negative?”
Leo shrugs, but he keeps jogging. After a minute he asks, “So, did your mom make you that doctor’s appointment yet?”
I look behind us to check that no one heard. “Not here,” I whisper, then run ahead, even though the bouncing makes my stomach clench. Because we can’t talk about this in public.
I’ve had stomach problems for a while, but they got really bad last winter. I tried to hide them from my mom, except she saw how often I was in the bathroom, and now I have to go to the most embarrassing doctor to ever exist (apoop doctor—yup, you read that right) even though I’m basically fine. I didn’t want Leo to find out, but my mom told his mom, and now he knows, through the mom-gossip grapevine.
After a minute of running in silence, we somehow get lapped by the Addisonsagain. And that’s when it hits me.
First, there’s the gurgle. Next, there’s that feeling, the one where all I can think about is what’s happening in my intestines. I want to stop jogging, or maybe scream, or just not be on this horrible, too-hot track in the first place.
I try to hold it in. I try, I try, I try. But I don’t think I can. I skid to a halt and dig my fingers into my hands and groan because what am I even supposed to do? I don’t have time to run inside the school to get to a bathroom.
Leo turns to me, his eyes wide. “Do you need me to do anything?” He must realize what’s happening even though I’ve done my best to hide my emergencies from him.
DiMeglio blows his whistle and shouts something at me as I shake my head at Leo, because I’m beyond help.
Then I see it: a porta potty off in the distance.
I take off. The only thing that exists in the whole world is the porta potty on the other side of the track and my messed-up stomach on this side. I’m sprinting, running faster than I ever have in my life.
I fling the porta potty door open. It smells like rotting garbage, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I rush to put toilet paper over the seat the way my mom taught me when I was little.
Then: relief.
Pure relief.
For, like, two seconds.
Before I realize what just happened.
My entire gym class watched me run into a porta potty. A PORTA POTTY.
I have to drop out of school. That’s my only option.
I guess I could say I threw up, because for some reason vomiting is less embarrassing than pooping. I bend over and put my head between my knees as a particularly painful bout ofyou-know-what happens.
I wish I could jump into the porta potty.
But I know it’ll get worse the longer I stay in here, so as soon as I’m done, I pump some of the gross old soap residue onto my palm and walk out into the bright September day.
Everyone’s huddled together by the edge of the track. I walk over as quietly as I can, hoping no one will notice me, but as I make my way to the edge of the group, Mr. DiMeglio looks up and says, “Glad to have you back, Alison,” and the Addisons whisper to each other and start giggling.
Gym class should be illegal. I wish I had hopped into the porta potty when I had the chance.
Mr. DiMeglio tells us that we’re running the mile next week, and Leo leans over and whispers, “You all right?”
I stare at the yellowing grass.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Chapter Two
MY KISHKES
“You sure you’re okay?” Leo asks as we walk home from school later that day.
Gym is the only class we have together, so he hasn’t seen me since The Incident.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. I’m really not, but he doesn’t need to know that. It’s bad enough that he knows about my stomach problems in the first place. “But can youpromise not to say anything to either of our moms?”
He looks up at me—and he has to look waaay up, because I’m a full head taller than him—and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Yeah,” he says. “Promise.”
I smile at him, relieved. At least Leo has my back, even if my mom doesn’t. She’s convinced I have a “real problem,” when the cold hard truth is I’m just a kid who poops a lot. It’s fine. I’ll go to this special doctor and she’ll fix me up and I’ll never have a porta potty emergency ever again.
Leo and I only live a few blocks from school, but my back’s already sticky with sweat from carrying all the giant books we need for seventh grade.
I’m debating just letting my backpack crush me so that I never have to set foot in our school again when Leo asks, “Did you see the club flyers in the hallway?”
I snort. Leo and I aren’t club people. “Yeah, I saw,” I tell him. “Who would want to be in theIce Cream Crew? What do they even do?”
“Maybe they go out for ice cream?”
“This is why we don’t need stuff like that,” I say, putting a clammy hand on his shoulder. “We can get ice cream on our own, just the two of us, and we don’t have to deal with other kids or the teacher advisors. I bet they don’t even let you get sprinkles.”
“I guess.” Leo shrugs. “But maybe we could join something. I’m sure not all the club people are like the Addisons.”
“No, some of them are like Duke Waters, who’s even worse.”
(Duke set the boys’ bathroom on fire last year during a Model UN competition.)
Leo shakes his head. “I don’t know, maybe there’s a club that could be fun for us to join together.”
“We have a club,” I tell him. “It’s the Al and Leo Club, and it meets daily in your bedroom.”
I should probably mention that Leo and I live together. Not, like, together together. But we live on the same floor of the same building. Which is kind of incredible, because I’m like ten feet away from him at all times.
But the best part of living in the same building as him is that our apartments are directly above his mom’s bakery, so it smells amazingall the time.
“I like our club,” Leo admits.
“See?” I tell him, hiking my brick-filled backpack farther up on my shoulders. “That’s the only group we need.”
We arrive at our building and open the door to Klein’s Kosher Bakery, and we’re blasted with cold air and the scent of Jewish desserts.
“Well, look who it is!” Leo’s mom, Beth, says from behind the counter.
She washes her hands and runs over to give Leo a hug and a kiss, and then she pulls me in for a hug too.
People in the store always mistake me for Beth’s daughter, probably because we’re both white and Jewish and tall and lanky and have light-ish brown hair. (Honestly, sometimes I wish shewere my mom. She’s funny, she bakes, and she doesn’t ask me about my stomach.)
But people never randomly guess that Leo is Beth’s kid, which makes all of us super mad, and no one more than Leo. He looks more like his dad, who is Filipino and lives in New Jersey—he’s short and chubby and has light-brown skin.
“Can I interest you two in the challah nub?” Beth asks.
Leo turns to me and grins, and I fake a grin back. Normally, I’d be super excited about the challah nub—the end of the challah that she doesn’t turn into French toast or sandwiches—but today my stomach hurts too much to even think about eating.
“Yes please,” Leo says, and Beth brings it out for us on a paper plate.
“But save your appetites, okay?” she says before she hands it to us. “We’re having dinner together tonight.”
All of us?” Leo and I exchange glances. We usually have dinner in our own apartments with our own moms. Sometimes we’ll light Shabbat candles and have dessert together, but, yeah. Dinner is separate.
“Yup!” Beth says, and her smile gets too big.
“Why are you being weird?” Leo asks.
“Not weird,” she says quickly. “We just thought it might be fun! Celebrate the first few weeks of the school year, that kind of thing.”
“Okay . . .”
Luckily, a customer walks in, and we’re spared any more of whatever that was. Leo perches on a stool at a small café table with the plate, but I tug on his shirt and usher him over to the stairwell before he gets too comfortable.
The fire door slams shut and drowns out the bakery sounds and smells, and we plop down on the concrete stairs.
“Why can’t we sit down there and eat?”
I look at the plate of food, and my stomach makes an audible gurgle.
His eyebrows scrunch up. “Are your kishkes still hurting?”
“A little,” I say, but my kishkes betray me by gurgling again. Leo calls them that because it’s what Beth says; it means “guts” in Yiddish. “But it’s fine, you eat it. I’m not hungry.”
He gives me another look as he takes a bite of the nub. I wish I could eat it. Leo’s mom’s challah is my favorite food. It’s fluffy on the inside and salty on the outside and it melts on my tongue (well, it does when I can eat it without needing to run straight to the bathroom).
“Why do you think we’re having dinner together?” Leo asks.
“Maybe the landlord raised the rent again?” That’s happened before, but it’s not usually a group discussion. I don’t tell Leo that I think it’s because of my stomach. That maybe my mom is going to try to have an apartment-wide talk about how sick I am and how everyone should try to be extra careful around me. She’ll tell them they need to make sure I’m eating the “right” things, like you’d do with a baby when they have too much mush and spit up all over themselves.
But I’m not a baby; I know how to take care of myself.
“What if location scouts came by and they decided our apartment was the perfect place to film their movie?” Leo asks, getting excited. “Remember when they did that at the Main Street theater?”
I nod and laugh a little, but I don’t think that’s what this is.
When the Hollywood people came to our town, Leo freaked out. He was practically bursting with excitement, and he forced me to go down to Main Street with him so we could casually stroll by the film set. He thought maybe if we walked back and forth enough times, one of the casting directors would spot him and shout YOU’RE PERFECT! and make him the star of the movie. But when we were a few blocks away from the set, he chickened out and we ran back to our apartment and ate day-old cake instead.
“Do you wanna practice the song later?” I ask, changing the subject. Just thinking about what this dinner could possibly mean is making my stomach hurt. “We could play it for our moms tonight.”
“Yes!” He jumps up from the stair he was sitting on. “We have to.”
Leo and I do this thing where we write really weird songs and perform them for our parents. Well, Leo performs. I sit in the background and play my ukulele. He’s too shy to talk in class, but he’s amazing when he’s singing for our moms. I don’t like to be in the spotlight, but I love being Leo’s backing band, so we’re the perfect duo.
The only place we ever play our songs is in our apartments. You couldn’t pay me a trillion dollars to perform at the school talent show or something like that. It would be like having a big sign over my head that said look at me and judge me!
I know Leo feels the same way, like how he didn’t want anyone but me to hear his opera singing on the track even though he’s actually pretty good.
“Ecretsay andshakehay?” Leo asks me as we climb the rest of the way upstairs to the hall between our two apartments.
“Ofyay oursecay.”
He just asked if I wanted to do our secret handshake, and I said of course.
Leo and I taught ourselves pig Latin last summer so that we could talk about whatever we wanted without our moms picking up on it. We mostly ended up talking about YouTubers, but it’s nice to have the option.
Our handshake starts off with a double high five, then we grab each other’s hands and cross them. Next, we release them with an explosion sound.
Leo jumps and points to me. “Al!”
I point to him. “Leo!”
We wrap our bent index fingers around each other and say “Arrrr” (because they look like pirate hooks when they’re crossed like that).
The grand finale is lifting our entwined fingers toward the sky and shouting “MATEYS FOR LIFE!”
We’re both a little out of breath after doing our handshake, grinning at each other. Maybe our performance will help Leo forget about my stomach stuff.
“Meet in your room for rehearsal later?” Leo asks. “I just have to do some homework.”
“Sounds good.”
We wave goodbye, then head into our separate apartments, only feet apart. It’s the best of both worlds: He’s close when I need him, but we don’t share a bathroom. It’s comforting to know that Leo’s just across the hall.
When I walk into the living room, my mom’s watching TV on the couch. She pauses it when she sees me and gives me her undivided attention, even though I’d prefer if it was a little more divided.
“How’s your stomach feeling today?”
“Fine,” I tell her, crossing my arms.
I can’t believe that’s the first thing she asks when I come home from school. Actually, I guess Ican believe it, since all she’s been able to talk to me about since my stomach started hurting is, well, my stomach.
She stands up from the couch and takes my backpack from me, letting it fall onto the floor near the kitchen table.
“I can do that myself,” I mumble.
She must not hear me, because after she’s done she asks, “Want a snack?” as she opens the fridge. “I got you some plain applesauce from work. I read on this cute little blog that it’s easy on the stomach.”
I shake my head. “I already had some challah,” I tell her, even though it’s a lie. I don’t need a special diet just because my stomach hurts. I can eat what I want.
She frowns. “Are you sure that’s good for you?”
I shrug and make an I don’t know sound in the back of my throat.
“You don’t want to hurt yourself more by eating the wrong things,” she says, and when I shrug in response yet again, shetsks, which makes me want to scream.
She’s being all, “Oh, Al, do you need applesauce?” or “Oh, Al, here’s this food tip I saw from a post on Facebook” (Facebook!!) or “Oh, Al, I saw on a YouTube video that nuts give you diarrhea, so I picked them out of your salad.”
Maybe when I go to the doctor, she can fix my stomach and calm my mom down.
“I’m going to my room,” I tell her.
But of course, before I can settle in, my stomach clenches and I run to the bathroom.
It’s a relief to be completely alone and to sit on the toilet for as long as I want. Sometimes I rest here until my feet get all tingly from being in the same position for so long. It sounds weird, but it’s almost better to just stay put so that if another wave hits, I’m already where I need to be. When I’m done pooping, I flop onto my bed and rest on my stomach, which is the comfiest position for me. Even once I’ve pooped out most of the pain, it still feels better.
It’s also the perfect position to scroll through TikTok for hours. My mom doesn’ttechnically let me have social media, but she doesn’t check my phone.
The TikTok I’m scrolling on now isn’t even my main one. This is my TikTok that no one at school follows or knows about—my secret backup account—where I watch what I actually want without the Addisons’ dancing videos ruining my algorithm.
My For You page is a mix of stuff, but it’s mostly videos of girls who like girls. It’s kind of wild that TikTok knows I want to see those kinds of videos, because that means it knows I feel the same way.
That I like girls, I mean. That I have crushes on them. It’s not a big deal, but I don’t want to tell people. Not even Leo. It’s one thing to have my stomach hurting all the time and be sick or whatever the doctor’s going to tell me, but I don’t need my best friend to know about my random crushes too.
But on my backup TikTok, I can be someone else entirely. I can be my full queer self, and comment on girls’ TikToks, telling them they look cute or that I like their outfit, even if the outfit is just a giant thrifted sweatshirt with an embroidered prairie dog on it. None of them know about my stomach, they just know I’m queer like them.
It’s not that I’m trying to hide any of this from Leo, it’s just that it would be weird to talk about people I mightlike like with my best friend. Saying I’m queer would mean telling Leo that I know I like girls. That I know I get crushes at all. That I want to kiss someone (eventually).
I think that would be embarrassing even if I were straight. It’s better to just keep it in, to live life like the supercomputer without a body that I aspire to be.
I scroll through TikTok for a few more minutes. I’m exhausted from the day, but my brain is too focused on school and cute girls and the storm happening in my stomach for me to fall asleep.
It’s possible that seventh grade will be the worst year of my entire life.

Chapter Three
THE SQUEEZING HAND OF DOOM
I must’ve fallen asleep, because I wake to my mom knocking on my door, telling me that it’s time to head over to Beth and Leo’s for dinner.
Her hair is wet and she’s wearing makeup, which is so not like her that I have to fight the urge to laugh.
It’s not that hard to “head over,” because Beth and Leo’s apartment is three steps away, but I tell my mom I need a minute. I figure if my mom’s wearingmakeup, then I should put in a little more effort than showing up with post-nap hair and a rumpled T-shirt.
“Can you grab this?” My mom hands me a loaf of bread once I’m changed and in the living room. “We’re having turkey sandwiches.”
“That’s it?”
She smooths my hair down and looks me over. “It’ll be easier on your stomach.”
I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. Leo always tells me about the delicious dinners Beth makes for the two of them, like salads and stews and brisket. I thought since we were going over there, we’d have something like that. But of course my mom wouldn’t want me to eat something that actually tastes good.
I stay a few steps behind her as we walk across the hall to their apartment. She opens the door without knocking, which is completely weird. EvenI knock on the door, despite the fact that Leo has told me a million times to just come in.
“We’re here.”
“Kitchen!” Beth calls out.
Leo’s putting napkins and utensils on the table, and my mom and I hand the sandwich materials off to Beth.
“Idday ouryay ommay elltay ouyay at’swhay oinggay onyay?” I whisper to Leo. Translation:Did your mom tell you what’s going on?
Leo shakes his head. “Onay,” he whispers back.
That one’s pretty self-explanatory.
When the table’s all set and we sit down to eat, Beth lets out a long sigh. “I’m so glad we could have dinner together today.”
“Me too!” my mom says, and she has on that same too-big smile that Beth had earlier.
Before we eat, Beth has Leo recite a prayer over the sandwiches.
He shifts a little in his seat and glances up at me before saying super quickly, “Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz.”
I turn to my mom, who meets my eye. We barely know what the blessings are for, let alone how to say them. We’re not that religious, though we sometimes welcome in Shabbat with Beth and Leo.
We all say amen even if we don’t all know what we’re saying amen to. Then we dig in.
Except . . . I don’t. My stomach’s been feeling this way all day—like whenever I see food, something down there knows there’s too much else going on for me to even try to digest. I know that if I take even one bite of food, my stomach’s going to do something horrible. It’s like there’s a giant hand squeezing my intestines. So while my mom and Leo and Beth take big bites of their blessed turkey sandwiches, I nibble the crust and try to look busy.
“So,” Beth says in a serious tone, and I know that whatever she’s about to say is the reason we’re all here. “We thought it would be a good idea if the four of us have dinner together more often.”
“We live across the hall from each other,” my mom adds quickly. “We should be spending more time together.”
I meet Leo’s eyes, and he grins. “Sounds good to me.”
“Me too,” I say hesitantly.
“Great!” Beth says, looking relieved. “This’ll be fun.”
“We could even play board games!” my mom says, even though I don’t think she’s ever played a board game in her life.
So . . . that’s it? I don’t know why Beth and my mom were acting so strange if they were just going to say they want the four of us to hang out more. I had thought they were scheming, which is my and Leo’s thing, not theirs.
After that, the giant hand squeezing my intestines lets up a bit and I’m able to eat most of my turkey sandwich.
Once everyone’s done, Beth grabs us dessert—some leftover apple pie that didn’t sell at the bakery today—and we sit back down to eat. Leo doesn’t take a single bite though, which is weird because apple pie is one of his favorite desserts. Now that I can eat, he can’t.
No one talks for a few minutes while most of us enjoy Beth’s pie.
But then my mom asks, “So how was school?” because she always picks the moment my mouth is at its fullest to ask questions.
“Fine,” I say quickly. I don’t add anything about what happened in gym.
Leo kicks my foot, but I still don’t mention The Incident. His eyes are pleading, and I try to communicate to him that it’s all good and under no circumstances should he worry about me.
“Yeah, fine,” he tells my mom. “I saw some signs for clubs, and . . .”—he meets my eye, then quickly looks away—“I don’t know, I was thinking about doing drama club.”
I snort a little, because obviously that’s a joke. Leo’s too shy to perform in front of anyone but me or our moms.
“I’m serious,” he says, staring at his pie slice.
“Oh.”
The hand squeezing my stomach is back, but it’s more than that. It’s like the squeezing hand also decided to punch me while it was at it.
“I think that’s great, bubs,” Beth tells Leo.
“I do too,” my mom says, and she smiles at Beth.
I try to get Leo to look at me again, but he’s concentrating really hard on his apple pie slice. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on, how he could do something like this when he couldn’t even sing fake opera on the track without making sure he wasn’t overheard.
Things are majorly awkward for a second, but then Beth starts talking like Leo didn’t just drop the biggest news of the century; news he didn’t even bother mentioning earlier when we were talking about clubs.
There’s an even stronger pang in my stomach then, and I know I’m having another emergency, like the one I had in gym.
“I, um . . . I need to go—”
I run out of the room. My mom calls out after me, but I can’t stop. The panic rises in my throat, and I want to cry.
So when I make it to the bathroom in my apartment, I do.
I put my head in my hands and let it out.
It’s like my stomach doesn’t know how to handle everything that’s going on in my life. Especially not Leo deciding to do something like drama club, something that I would never do with him. That heknows I would never do but wants to try anyway.
When I get off the toilet, I go straight to my room. My whole body hurts, not just my kishkes.
After a minute, there’s a knock on my door.
“Al?” my mom calls.
I don’t answer.
And the worst part is: Leo and I never even got to debut our song.
Praise for The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet

ALA 2024 Rainbow Book
NYPL 2023 Best Book for Kids
A NPR Best Book of the Year
A NYT Kids 2024 Year of Books selection


“Via Al’s plucky, plain-spoken first-person narration, Arlow presents an honest and exceptional story of a tween’s experience dealing with rapid and abundant change, while tenderly reflecting upon themes of chronic illness, found family, interdependence, and queerness.” –PW, starred review 

“Al feels all things deeply…traversing the highest highs and lowest lows on her journey to developing pride in all that she is. Her sweet romance with…Mina and deep friendship with Leo are strengths, and the highlight of Al’s story is the camaraderie among a group of chronically ill queer kids providing each other with dignity and nonjudgmental support…Offers humorous honesty and heartfelt relationships.” –Kirkus

“[The] first-person narration is frank and doesn’t lean on euphemisms. Humor is plentiful but not zany; the emphasis on Al’s emotions makes it easy to empathize with her…The casual, varied Jewish representation is another plus.” – The Horn Book

“Arlow’s heartfelt and humorous latest offers readers a story of friendship, self-discovery, gender, sexuality, complicated family dynamics, and, you guessed it, poop.” –Booklist

“Hilarious and touching.” –The Dallas Voice



About

A hilariously honest book about surviving middle school while navigating a chronic illness from the Stonewall Honor-winning author of Almost Flying.

Twelve-year-old Al Schneider is too scared to talk about the two biggest things in her life:

1. Her stomach hurts all the time and she has no idea why.
2. She’s almost definitely 100% sure she likes girls.

So she holds it in…until she can’t. After nearly having an accident of the lavatorial variety in gym class, Al finds herself getting a colonoscopy and an answer—she has Crohn’s disease.

But rather than solving all her problems, Al's diagnosis just makes everything worse. It’s scary and embarrassing. And worst of all, everyone wants her to talk about it—her overprotective mom, her best friend, and most annoyingly her gastroenterologist, who keeps trying to get her to go to a support group for kids with similar chronic illnesses. But, who wants to talk about what you do in the bathroom?

The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet is a wildly funny and honest story about finding community, telling the truth even when it’s hard, and the many indignities of middle school life.

Author

© Zareen Johnson
Jake Maia Arlow is a podcast producer, writer, and bagel connoisseur. They studied evolutionary biology and creative writing (not as different as you might think) at Barnard College. They live with their girlfriend and their loud cat in the Pacific Northwest. View titles by Jake Maia Arlow

Excerpt

Chapter One
AN UNFORTUNATE GURGLE
Some “scientists” claim that everybody poops.
Which might be true, but I have a hard time believing it.
I’m not saying I want to see some proof, because that would be disgusting. But if everybody poops . . . how come no one talks about it?
And even if everybody does poop—which, as I mentioned, I don’t believe—I’m pretty sure no one on Earththinks about pooping as much as me. Not because I want to think about it—I don’t. I’d rather think about anything else, such as being mauled by a walrus or having my face eaten by a bunch of tiny cute mice.
But the problem is, my body makes me think about it. My stomach hurtsall the time—at home, at school—and especially during gym class.
I wish that my brain didn’t have to be attached to my body. Having flesh and bones and arms and legs and intestines is the cause of almost all my problems. If I were just a brain in a jar connected to a supercomputer, I’d never worry about having stomach pain or pooping or doing something embarrassing. No one would be able to tell if I was a kid or an adult or someone with a messed-up stomach or a normal one. No one would be able to tell if I was a girl or a boy or maybe something else.
But I’m not a supercomputer, so I have to run laps.
“Do you think the Addisons sweat at all?” That’s Leo. He’s not a fan of gym either.
We’ve been walking around the track for like fifteen minutes, and at this point my pit stains have pit stains.
All the other gym classes got to stay inside today, but Mr. DiMeglio used to be a professional wrestler, so he’s really hard on us. He doesn’t care that it’s a hundred million degrees on the track.
“No, definitely not,” I whisper to Leo, watching as the Addisons—Madison and Addison—lap us for the second time. “They’re robots.”
Madison and Addison (yes, those are really their names, and yes, it’s annoying) are best friends, and they’re both super athletic. They never post pictures on IG without each other, and all their posts get a ton more likes than everyone else in seventh grade, and sometimes more than people in eighth.
Leo and I are not friends with the Addisons. We’re pretty much only friends with each other.
“Wanna know what my Italian teacher told us last period?” Leo asks as we walk to the outermost lane of the track to let everyone pass us.
“That you should’ve taken Spanish with me?”
He rolls his eyes. “No, he said it’s the language of opera.” Leo turns to me and grins, and then, when he’s sure no one’s listening, he imitates an opera singer, arms outstretched. “CIAO, MI CHIAMO LEOOOOOO.”He sings it so that only I can hear, and I can’t help but laugh.
“What does that even mean?”
He slips his hands into his khaki shorts’ pockets. He never changes for gym if he can help it, and I don’t blame him. I always wear shorts or sweatpants and a T-shirt on gym days and then swap whatever shirt I wore to school for a baggier, dirtier one that hides my body.
“It means ‘Hi, my name is Leo,’” he tells me. “It’s the only thing I know how to say in Italian so far.”
We both lose it at that, giggling so hard that we have to stop walking.
“Leonard! Alison! This isn’t the mall! I want to see you jog!” Mr. DiMeglio shouts at us from his lawn chair. Yup, hislawn chair.
Leo and I cringe. Neither of us likes our real first names—we’re Leo and Al, thank you very much, but Mr. DiMeglio never calls us that.
I swing my arms a little so it looks like I’m jogging, but Leo actuallystarts jogging, so I run to catch up.
“I hate him,” he mutters. “ ‘This isn’t the mall’? Who says that? What does that evenmean?”
“Don’t listen to him,” I tell Leo. “Remember when they fired him from Positive Youth Development for being too negative?”
Leo shrugs, but he keeps jogging. After a minute he asks, “So, did your mom make you that doctor’s appointment yet?”
I look behind us to check that no one heard. “Not here,” I whisper, then run ahead, even though the bouncing makes my stomach clench. Because we can’t talk about this in public.
I’ve had stomach problems for a while, but they got really bad last winter. I tried to hide them from my mom, except she saw how often I was in the bathroom, and now I have to go to the most embarrassing doctor to ever exist (apoop doctor—yup, you read that right) even though I’m basically fine. I didn’t want Leo to find out, but my mom told his mom, and now he knows, through the mom-gossip grapevine.
After a minute of running in silence, we somehow get lapped by the Addisonsagain. And that’s when it hits me.
First, there’s the gurgle. Next, there’s that feeling, the one where all I can think about is what’s happening in my intestines. I want to stop jogging, or maybe scream, or just not be on this horrible, too-hot track in the first place.
I try to hold it in. I try, I try, I try. But I don’t think I can. I skid to a halt and dig my fingers into my hands and groan because what am I even supposed to do? I don’t have time to run inside the school to get to a bathroom.
Leo turns to me, his eyes wide. “Do you need me to do anything?” He must realize what’s happening even though I’ve done my best to hide my emergencies from him.
DiMeglio blows his whistle and shouts something at me as I shake my head at Leo, because I’m beyond help.
Then I see it: a porta potty off in the distance.
I take off. The only thing that exists in the whole world is the porta potty on the other side of the track and my messed-up stomach on this side. I’m sprinting, running faster than I ever have in my life.
I fling the porta potty door open. It smells like rotting garbage, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I rush to put toilet paper over the seat the way my mom taught me when I was little.
Then: relief.
Pure relief.
For, like, two seconds.
Before I realize what just happened.
My entire gym class watched me run into a porta potty. A PORTA POTTY.
I have to drop out of school. That’s my only option.
I guess I could say I threw up, because for some reason vomiting is less embarrassing than pooping. I bend over and put my head between my knees as a particularly painful bout ofyou-know-what happens.
I wish I could jump into the porta potty.
But I know it’ll get worse the longer I stay in here, so as soon as I’m done, I pump some of the gross old soap residue onto my palm and walk out into the bright September day.
Everyone’s huddled together by the edge of the track. I walk over as quietly as I can, hoping no one will notice me, but as I make my way to the edge of the group, Mr. DiMeglio looks up and says, “Glad to have you back, Alison,” and the Addisons whisper to each other and start giggling.
Gym class should be illegal. I wish I had hopped into the porta potty when I had the chance.
Mr. DiMeglio tells us that we’re running the mile next week, and Leo leans over and whispers, “You all right?”
I stare at the yellowing grass.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Chapter Two
MY KISHKES
“You sure you’re okay?” Leo asks as we walk home from school later that day.
Gym is the only class we have together, so he hasn’t seen me since The Incident.
“I’m fine,” I tell him. I’m really not, but he doesn’t need to know that. It’s bad enough that he knows about my stomach problems in the first place. “But can youpromise not to say anything to either of our moms?”
He looks up at me—and he has to look waaay up, because I’m a full head taller than him—and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Yeah,” he says. “Promise.”
I smile at him, relieved. At least Leo has my back, even if my mom doesn’t. She’s convinced I have a “real problem,” when the cold hard truth is I’m just a kid who poops a lot. It’s fine. I’ll go to this special doctor and she’ll fix me up and I’ll never have a porta potty emergency ever again.
Leo and I only live a few blocks from school, but my back’s already sticky with sweat from carrying all the giant books we need for seventh grade.
I’m debating just letting my backpack crush me so that I never have to set foot in our school again when Leo asks, “Did you see the club flyers in the hallway?”
I snort. Leo and I aren’t club people. “Yeah, I saw,” I tell him. “Who would want to be in theIce Cream Crew? What do they even do?”
“Maybe they go out for ice cream?”
“This is why we don’t need stuff like that,” I say, putting a clammy hand on his shoulder. “We can get ice cream on our own, just the two of us, and we don’t have to deal with other kids or the teacher advisors. I bet they don’t even let you get sprinkles.”
“I guess.” Leo shrugs. “But maybe we could join something. I’m sure not all the club people are like the Addisons.”
“No, some of them are like Duke Waters, who’s even worse.”
(Duke set the boys’ bathroom on fire last year during a Model UN competition.)
Leo shakes his head. “I don’t know, maybe there’s a club that could be fun for us to join together.”
“We have a club,” I tell him. “It’s the Al and Leo Club, and it meets daily in your bedroom.”
I should probably mention that Leo and I live together. Not, like, together together. But we live on the same floor of the same building. Which is kind of incredible, because I’m like ten feet away from him at all times.
But the best part of living in the same building as him is that our apartments are directly above his mom’s bakery, so it smells amazingall the time.
“I like our club,” Leo admits.
“See?” I tell him, hiking my brick-filled backpack farther up on my shoulders. “That’s the only group we need.”
We arrive at our building and open the door to Klein’s Kosher Bakery, and we’re blasted with cold air and the scent of Jewish desserts.
“Well, look who it is!” Leo’s mom, Beth, says from behind the counter.
She washes her hands and runs over to give Leo a hug and a kiss, and then she pulls me in for a hug too.
People in the store always mistake me for Beth’s daughter, probably because we’re both white and Jewish and tall and lanky and have light-ish brown hair. (Honestly, sometimes I wish shewere my mom. She’s funny, she bakes, and she doesn’t ask me about my stomach.)
But people never randomly guess that Leo is Beth’s kid, which makes all of us super mad, and no one more than Leo. He looks more like his dad, who is Filipino and lives in New Jersey—he’s short and chubby and has light-brown skin.
“Can I interest you two in the challah nub?” Beth asks.
Leo turns to me and grins, and I fake a grin back. Normally, I’d be super excited about the challah nub—the end of the challah that she doesn’t turn into French toast or sandwiches—but today my stomach hurts too much to even think about eating.
“Yes please,” Leo says, and Beth brings it out for us on a paper plate.
“But save your appetites, okay?” she says before she hands it to us. “We’re having dinner together tonight.”
All of us?” Leo and I exchange glances. We usually have dinner in our own apartments with our own moms. Sometimes we’ll light Shabbat candles and have dessert together, but, yeah. Dinner is separate.
“Yup!” Beth says, and her smile gets too big.
“Why are you being weird?” Leo asks.
“Not weird,” she says quickly. “We just thought it might be fun! Celebrate the first few weeks of the school year, that kind of thing.”
“Okay . . .”
Luckily, a customer walks in, and we’re spared any more of whatever that was. Leo perches on a stool at a small café table with the plate, but I tug on his shirt and usher him over to the stairwell before he gets too comfortable.
The fire door slams shut and drowns out the bakery sounds and smells, and we plop down on the concrete stairs.
“Why can’t we sit down there and eat?”
I look at the plate of food, and my stomach makes an audible gurgle.
His eyebrows scrunch up. “Are your kishkes still hurting?”
“A little,” I say, but my kishkes betray me by gurgling again. Leo calls them that because it’s what Beth says; it means “guts” in Yiddish. “But it’s fine, you eat it. I’m not hungry.”
He gives me another look as he takes a bite of the nub. I wish I could eat it. Leo’s mom’s challah is my favorite food. It’s fluffy on the inside and salty on the outside and it melts on my tongue (well, it does when I can eat it without needing to run straight to the bathroom).
“Why do you think we’re having dinner together?” Leo asks.
“Maybe the landlord raised the rent again?” That’s happened before, but it’s not usually a group discussion. I don’t tell Leo that I think it’s because of my stomach. That maybe my mom is going to try to have an apartment-wide talk about how sick I am and how everyone should try to be extra careful around me. She’ll tell them they need to make sure I’m eating the “right” things, like you’d do with a baby when they have too much mush and spit up all over themselves.
But I’m not a baby; I know how to take care of myself.
“What if location scouts came by and they decided our apartment was the perfect place to film their movie?” Leo asks, getting excited. “Remember when they did that at the Main Street theater?”
I nod and laugh a little, but I don’t think that’s what this is.
When the Hollywood people came to our town, Leo freaked out. He was practically bursting with excitement, and he forced me to go down to Main Street with him so we could casually stroll by the film set. He thought maybe if we walked back and forth enough times, one of the casting directors would spot him and shout YOU’RE PERFECT! and make him the star of the movie. But when we were a few blocks away from the set, he chickened out and we ran back to our apartment and ate day-old cake instead.
“Do you wanna practice the song later?” I ask, changing the subject. Just thinking about what this dinner could possibly mean is making my stomach hurt. “We could play it for our moms tonight.”
“Yes!” He jumps up from the stair he was sitting on. “We have to.”
Leo and I do this thing where we write really weird songs and perform them for our parents. Well, Leo performs. I sit in the background and play my ukulele. He’s too shy to talk in class, but he’s amazing when he’s singing for our moms. I don’t like to be in the spotlight, but I love being Leo’s backing band, so we’re the perfect duo.
The only place we ever play our songs is in our apartments. You couldn’t pay me a trillion dollars to perform at the school talent show or something like that. It would be like having a big sign over my head that said look at me and judge me!
I know Leo feels the same way, like how he didn’t want anyone but me to hear his opera singing on the track even though he’s actually pretty good.
“Ecretsay andshakehay?” Leo asks me as we climb the rest of the way upstairs to the hall between our two apartments.
“Ofyay oursecay.”
He just asked if I wanted to do our secret handshake, and I said of course.
Leo and I taught ourselves pig Latin last summer so that we could talk about whatever we wanted without our moms picking up on it. We mostly ended up talking about YouTubers, but it’s nice to have the option.
Our handshake starts off with a double high five, then we grab each other’s hands and cross them. Next, we release them with an explosion sound.
Leo jumps and points to me. “Al!”
I point to him. “Leo!”
We wrap our bent index fingers around each other and say “Arrrr” (because they look like pirate hooks when they’re crossed like that).
The grand finale is lifting our entwined fingers toward the sky and shouting “MATEYS FOR LIFE!”
We’re both a little out of breath after doing our handshake, grinning at each other. Maybe our performance will help Leo forget about my stomach stuff.
“Meet in your room for rehearsal later?” Leo asks. “I just have to do some homework.”
“Sounds good.”
We wave goodbye, then head into our separate apartments, only feet apart. It’s the best of both worlds: He’s close when I need him, but we don’t share a bathroom. It’s comforting to know that Leo’s just across the hall.
When I walk into the living room, my mom’s watching TV on the couch. She pauses it when she sees me and gives me her undivided attention, even though I’d prefer if it was a little more divided.
“How’s your stomach feeling today?”
“Fine,” I tell her, crossing my arms.
I can’t believe that’s the first thing she asks when I come home from school. Actually, I guess Ican believe it, since all she’s been able to talk to me about since my stomach started hurting is, well, my stomach.
She stands up from the couch and takes my backpack from me, letting it fall onto the floor near the kitchen table.
“I can do that myself,” I mumble.
She must not hear me, because after she’s done she asks, “Want a snack?” as she opens the fridge. “I got you some plain applesauce from work. I read on this cute little blog that it’s easy on the stomach.”
I shake my head. “I already had some challah,” I tell her, even though it’s a lie. I don’t need a special diet just because my stomach hurts. I can eat what I want.
She frowns. “Are you sure that’s good for you?”
I shrug and make an I don’t know sound in the back of my throat.
“You don’t want to hurt yourself more by eating the wrong things,” she says, and when I shrug in response yet again, shetsks, which makes me want to scream.
She’s being all, “Oh, Al, do you need applesauce?” or “Oh, Al, here’s this food tip I saw from a post on Facebook” (Facebook!!) or “Oh, Al, I saw on a YouTube video that nuts give you diarrhea, so I picked them out of your salad.”
Maybe when I go to the doctor, she can fix my stomach and calm my mom down.
“I’m going to my room,” I tell her.
But of course, before I can settle in, my stomach clenches and I run to the bathroom.
It’s a relief to be completely alone and to sit on the toilet for as long as I want. Sometimes I rest here until my feet get all tingly from being in the same position for so long. It sounds weird, but it’s almost better to just stay put so that if another wave hits, I’m already where I need to be. When I’m done pooping, I flop onto my bed and rest on my stomach, which is the comfiest position for me. Even once I’ve pooped out most of the pain, it still feels better.
It’s also the perfect position to scroll through TikTok for hours. My mom doesn’ttechnically let me have social media, but she doesn’t check my phone.
The TikTok I’m scrolling on now isn’t even my main one. This is my TikTok that no one at school follows or knows about—my secret backup account—where I watch what I actually want without the Addisons’ dancing videos ruining my algorithm.
My For You page is a mix of stuff, but it’s mostly videos of girls who like girls. It’s kind of wild that TikTok knows I want to see those kinds of videos, because that means it knows I feel the same way.
That I like girls, I mean. That I have crushes on them. It’s not a big deal, but I don’t want to tell people. Not even Leo. It’s one thing to have my stomach hurting all the time and be sick or whatever the doctor’s going to tell me, but I don’t need my best friend to know about my random crushes too.
But on my backup TikTok, I can be someone else entirely. I can be my full queer self, and comment on girls’ TikToks, telling them they look cute or that I like their outfit, even if the outfit is just a giant thrifted sweatshirt with an embroidered prairie dog on it. None of them know about my stomach, they just know I’m queer like them.
It’s not that I’m trying to hide any of this from Leo, it’s just that it would be weird to talk about people I mightlike like with my best friend. Saying I’m queer would mean telling Leo that I know I like girls. That I know I get crushes at all. That I want to kiss someone (eventually).
I think that would be embarrassing even if I were straight. It’s better to just keep it in, to live life like the supercomputer without a body that I aspire to be.
I scroll through TikTok for a few more minutes. I’m exhausted from the day, but my brain is too focused on school and cute girls and the storm happening in my stomach for me to fall asleep.
It’s possible that seventh grade will be the worst year of my entire life.

Chapter Three
THE SQUEEZING HAND OF DOOM
I must’ve fallen asleep, because I wake to my mom knocking on my door, telling me that it’s time to head over to Beth and Leo’s for dinner.
Her hair is wet and she’s wearing makeup, which is so not like her that I have to fight the urge to laugh.
It’s not that hard to “head over,” because Beth and Leo’s apartment is three steps away, but I tell my mom I need a minute. I figure if my mom’s wearingmakeup, then I should put in a little more effort than showing up with post-nap hair and a rumpled T-shirt.
“Can you grab this?” My mom hands me a loaf of bread once I’m changed and in the living room. “We’re having turkey sandwiches.”
“That’s it?”
She smooths my hair down and looks me over. “It’ll be easier on your stomach.”
I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. Leo always tells me about the delicious dinners Beth makes for the two of them, like salads and stews and brisket. I thought since we were going over there, we’d have something like that. But of course my mom wouldn’t want me to eat something that actually tastes good.
I stay a few steps behind her as we walk across the hall to their apartment. She opens the door without knocking, which is completely weird. EvenI knock on the door, despite the fact that Leo has told me a million times to just come in.
“We’re here.”
“Kitchen!” Beth calls out.
Leo’s putting napkins and utensils on the table, and my mom and I hand the sandwich materials off to Beth.
“Idday ouryay ommay elltay ouyay at’swhay oinggay onyay?” I whisper to Leo. Translation:Did your mom tell you what’s going on?
Leo shakes his head. “Onay,” he whispers back.
That one’s pretty self-explanatory.
When the table’s all set and we sit down to eat, Beth lets out a long sigh. “I’m so glad we could have dinner together today.”
“Me too!” my mom says, and she has on that same too-big smile that Beth had earlier.
Before we eat, Beth has Leo recite a prayer over the sandwiches.
He shifts a little in his seat and glances up at me before saying super quickly, “Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz.”
I turn to my mom, who meets my eye. We barely know what the blessings are for, let alone how to say them. We’re not that religious, though we sometimes welcome in Shabbat with Beth and Leo.
We all say amen even if we don’t all know what we’re saying amen to. Then we dig in.
Except . . . I don’t. My stomach’s been feeling this way all day—like whenever I see food, something down there knows there’s too much else going on for me to even try to digest. I know that if I take even one bite of food, my stomach’s going to do something horrible. It’s like there’s a giant hand squeezing my intestines. So while my mom and Leo and Beth take big bites of their blessed turkey sandwiches, I nibble the crust and try to look busy.
“So,” Beth says in a serious tone, and I know that whatever she’s about to say is the reason we’re all here. “We thought it would be a good idea if the four of us have dinner together more often.”
“We live across the hall from each other,” my mom adds quickly. “We should be spending more time together.”
I meet Leo’s eyes, and he grins. “Sounds good to me.”
“Me too,” I say hesitantly.
“Great!” Beth says, looking relieved. “This’ll be fun.”
“We could even play board games!” my mom says, even though I don’t think she’s ever played a board game in her life.
So . . . that’s it? I don’t know why Beth and my mom were acting so strange if they were just going to say they want the four of us to hang out more. I had thought they were scheming, which is my and Leo’s thing, not theirs.
After that, the giant hand squeezing my intestines lets up a bit and I’m able to eat most of my turkey sandwich.
Once everyone’s done, Beth grabs us dessert—some leftover apple pie that didn’t sell at the bakery today—and we sit back down to eat. Leo doesn’t take a single bite though, which is weird because apple pie is one of his favorite desserts. Now that I can eat, he can’t.
No one talks for a few minutes while most of us enjoy Beth’s pie.
But then my mom asks, “So how was school?” because she always picks the moment my mouth is at its fullest to ask questions.
“Fine,” I say quickly. I don’t add anything about what happened in gym.
Leo kicks my foot, but I still don’t mention The Incident. His eyes are pleading, and I try to communicate to him that it’s all good and under no circumstances should he worry about me.
“Yeah, fine,” he tells my mom. “I saw some signs for clubs, and . . .”—he meets my eye, then quickly looks away—“I don’t know, I was thinking about doing drama club.”
I snort a little, because obviously that’s a joke. Leo’s too shy to perform in front of anyone but me or our moms.
“I’m serious,” he says, staring at his pie slice.
“Oh.”
The hand squeezing my stomach is back, but it’s more than that. It’s like the squeezing hand also decided to punch me while it was at it.
“I think that’s great, bubs,” Beth tells Leo.
“I do too,” my mom says, and she smiles at Beth.
I try to get Leo to look at me again, but he’s concentrating really hard on his apple pie slice. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on, how he could do something like this when he couldn’t even sing fake opera on the track without making sure he wasn’t overheard.
Things are majorly awkward for a second, but then Beth starts talking like Leo didn’t just drop the biggest news of the century; news he didn’t even bother mentioning earlier when we were talking about clubs.
There’s an even stronger pang in my stomach then, and I know I’m having another emergency, like the one I had in gym.
“I, um . . . I need to go—”
I run out of the room. My mom calls out after me, but I can’t stop. The panic rises in my throat, and I want to cry.
So when I make it to the bathroom in my apartment, I do.
I put my head in my hands and let it out.
It’s like my stomach doesn’t know how to handle everything that’s going on in my life. Especially not Leo deciding to do something like drama club, something that I would never do with him. That heknows I would never do but wants to try anyway.
When I get off the toilet, I go straight to my room. My whole body hurts, not just my kishkes.
After a minute, there’s a knock on my door.
“Al?” my mom calls.
I don’t answer.
And the worst part is: Leo and I never even got to debut our song.

Praise

Praise for The Year My Life Went Down the Toilet

ALA 2024 Rainbow Book
NYPL 2023 Best Book for Kids
A NPR Best Book of the Year
A NYT Kids 2024 Year of Books selection


“Via Al’s plucky, plain-spoken first-person narration, Arlow presents an honest and exceptional story of a tween’s experience dealing with rapid and abundant change, while tenderly reflecting upon themes of chronic illness, found family, interdependence, and queerness.” –PW, starred review 

“Al feels all things deeply…traversing the highest highs and lowest lows on her journey to developing pride in all that she is. Her sweet romance with…Mina and deep friendship with Leo are strengths, and the highlight of Al’s story is the camaraderie among a group of chronically ill queer kids providing each other with dignity and nonjudgmental support…Offers humorous honesty and heartfelt relationships.” –Kirkus

“[The] first-person narration is frank and doesn’t lean on euphemisms. Humor is plentiful but not zany; the emphasis on Al’s emotions makes it easy to empathize with her…The casual, varied Jewish representation is another plus.” – The Horn Book

“Arlow’s heartfelt and humorous latest offers readers a story of friendship, self-discovery, gender, sexuality, complicated family dynamics, and, you guessed it, poop.” –Booklist

“Hilarious and touching.” –The Dallas Voice



Books for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

In June we celebrate Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan and highlights the accomplishments of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community, while recognizing the ongoing struggles faced by many across the world who wish to live as their most authentic selves. Here is

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more