Violets Are Blue

For seventh grader Wren, life is suddenly full of big changes: her parents’ divorce and Dad’s remarriage, her move with Mom to a new town. So she distracts herself with a new obsession: watching special effects makeup videos by internet sensation Cat FX.  Of all the fantasy characters Cat FX re-creates, Wren’s favorite is the mermaid, but somehow she can’t duplicate Cat FX’s technique. Is something missing?

When Mom insists Wren pull herself away from her laptop, Wren agrees to do makeup for the middle school production of the musical Wicked. Soon she’s so involved with the show, her new friendship with Poppy, and dealing with Kai’s crush that she isn’t focused on Mom’s disappearances. Or on the weird lock on Mom’s bedroom door. Or on the number of pill bottles in Mom’s medicine cabinet.

But when Wren can’t ignore Mom’s behavior any longer, she sets out to find Cat FX. Will Cat FX reveal the secret of the mermaid–and possibly something about real life?

From the author of the acclaimed Maybe He Just Likes You and My Life in the Fish Tank comes a moving and relatable novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

One of School Library Journal’s Best Middle Grade Books 2021

A Junior Library Guild selection

A 2021 Project Lit selection

Nominated for 2024 New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award (Grades 6-8)

Nominated for 2023-2024 Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award

Nominated for 2023-24 Kentucky Bluegrass Award

Nominated for 2023-2024 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Grades 6-8)

Nominated for 2023-2024 Louisiana Readers’ Choice Award

Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title

2022 Texas Lone Star Annotated List

A 2021 Cybils Awards Finalist (Middle Grade Fiction)

One of A Mighty Girl’s 2021 Books of the Year

One of SLJ Teen Librarian Toolbox’s Favorite Reads of 2021


Check out my interview in Publishers Weekly

I wrote this post about Violets Are Blue for School Library Journal’s Teen Librarian Toolbox

Here’s the Reading Group Guide for Violets Are Blue


Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-5344-6918-1
Ages 9-13, Grades 4-8

“While Wren navigates tween life, her mother is also increasingly secretive. These mysterious actions elegantly unfold in Dee’s well-crafted story, which deftly addresses heavy topics such as parental separation and opioid addiction.”

“If you don’t have the work of Barbara Dee in your middle grade library collections, you are really missing out. Book after book she has mastered how to take complex topics and make them approachable and age-appropriate in all of her books. [VIOLETS ARE BLUE] is a masterpiece. … A must read and a must add. #pernillerecommends”

Pernille Ripp, teacher, author, speaker, creator of Global Read Aloud

Barbara Dee is writing some of the best middle grade out there. Fact. … Like all of Dee’s other books, this one handles the more mundane and relatable just as seriously and skillfully as the heavy and specific. … A great read.”


“I loved Barbara Dee’s Violets Are Blue. Wren is a character that a lot of readers are going to fall hard for. From start to finish, this one is a winner. Highly recommend.  (5/5 stars) “

Colby Sharp, educator and author; founder, NerdCamp

“Weaving two very different but timely topics–makeup tutorial videos and opioid addiction–Dee’s frequently poignant middle grade novel depicts the ways that both adults and children can feel out of control. … With flawed, realistic characters and dynamics, this reconciliatory novel is a believable balm for young people at the mercy of adult choices and scenarios.”

Publishers Weekly

“This powerful middle grade novel by the acclaimed author of My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You is a nuanced story that tackles tough issues with compassion and grace.”

“Barbara Dee has done it AGAIN! She tackles tough topics with such great care. She is to middle schoolers today what Judy Blume was to me in the 80s. I give Violets Are Blue ALL the stars and thumbs up.”

Amanda Jones, 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year

“Dee again successfully tackles tough topics, making them relatable for middle-grade readers.”


“A touching, realistic story about a mother-daughter relationship and its ups and downs.”

Kirkus Reviews

Violets Are Blue will break your heart and then piece it back together with infinite care. Barbara Dee expertly captures the struggle to be known and loved within a narrative that presents the complicated reality of addiction. Both Wren and her mother will stay with you long after this story is done.”

Jamie Sumner, author of Roll With It and Tune It Out

“Barbara Dee tunes into issues that impact middle schoolers and writes about them with compassion, insight, and just plain excellent storytelling. I loved this absorbing, accessible novel, which explores the heartbreaking effects of opioid addiction while also celebrating the joys of discovering a passion and finding people who understand you.”

Laurie Morrison, author of Up For Air and Saint Ivy

“Barbara Dee has done it again! Violets Are Blue is an emotionally rich story that masterfully weaves life’s messy feelings while gently and thoughtfully tackling the difficult subject of opioid addiction. Beautiful. Complicated. And full of heart. A must read!

Elly Swartz, author of Smart Cookie and Give and Take

Violets Are Blue tackles the subject of addiction with hope and compassion. Readers will cheer for Wren in this story about family bonds broken and redefined, learning to trust, and being true to yourself. I loved it!

Lynne Kelly, author of Song for a Whale

Told realistically and with compassion, Violets Are Blue provides a fascinating look into the world of special effects makeup, budding friendships, family, and the secrets we keep.”

Melanie Sumrow, author of The Inside Battle and The Prophet Calls

Barbara Dee is my favorite middle grade author because she writes kids like actual kids–not like sitcom kids, not like adults in kids’ bodies…. Brava to Dee for yet another stunning story. Required purchase for all middle grade collections.”

Kate Olson, Librarian

“Barbara Dee is one of my top 10 favorite middle grade authors. She has an ability to capture the middle school experience better than almost anyone else.”

Laura Gardner, SLJ School Librarian of the Year 2016 finalist