In Justin Sayre's third adjective-busting novel, Ellen discovers why it matters to be true to oneself, no matter what people might say or think about her.

Set in the same world as Justin Sayre's previous books, Husky and Pretty, Mean explores the private and public life of Ellen, who is confident, cool, and, according to Davis, mean. But if speaking the truth and being unconcerned with petty gossip makes you mean, Ellen is fine with that. Besides, she has her own issues to deal with as middle school becomes a virtual battlefield of pubescent zombies, not unlike the obstacles in the video games she loves to play. Escaping into the world of online video games provides only temporary relief. In time she learns that being honest, even when it hurts, is the only weapon she can truly rely on.
"Seventh grader Ellen is dealing with many concerns. Her parents are squabbling, and Ellen wonders if it means divorce. Little sister, Hannah, who is deaf and depends on Ellen more than their absentee mother, is scheduled for cochlear implants. Ellen’s bat mitzvah celebration is looming, and she has no dress and little interest in the party. She’s also worried by the illness of her beloved Zayde (grandfather).  Does she need handsome Noah to make her head spin, too? With humor and a growing confidence in her individuality, Ellen comforts Hannah, prepares for her bat mitzvah, copes with the loss of Zayde, and explores the new relationship with Noah—even as the family prepares to move from Brooklyn to Cleveland.
Centering the action amid preparations for Ellen’s bat mitzvah, the author highlights the importance of tradition and family in Jewish culture. Hebrew school discussions, the mystique of the Bubbe (grandmother) Brunch, and the impact of Zayde’s death are wonderful examples. But also noteworthy is the sensitive description of Ducks’ and Charlie’s “coming out.” However, Ellen is the main star. Labelled “Mean”—likely due to her sharp wit—Ellen is also a considerate friend and awesome sister. Realistically, she resents her mother’s absence during all this turmoil, but she is resourceful enough to wear multiple sports bras to minimize her noticeable assets. She is determined that physical appearance will not be her ticket to distinction. On the brink of womanhood, Ellen is a memorable character and worthy role model." –Barbara Johnston, VOYA Reviews