Ellen Outside the Lines

A Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor Book

Booklist Editors’ Choice

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

ALA Rainbow Book List Top Ten Choice For Young Readers

Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

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Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track.

Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.


Paperback out September 19, 2023 – Preorder

Out now in hardcover!

Order: Little, Brown | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Bookshop.org

Also available as an audiobook.


Articles & Interviews

Jewish Book Council: Little Nods and Food For Thought: Integrating Jewish Characters and Judaism into Middle Grade Novels

The Nerdy Book Club: Changing Landscapes and Shifting Friendships

A Novel Mind: On The Challenge of Shifting Plans (Autism, Anxiety)

School Library Journal Teen Librarian Toolbox: Worlds Apart: A. J. Sass on Researching the Barcelona Setting for Ellen Outside the Lines

We Need Diverse Books: Balancing Authentic and Accessible Autism Representation

Awards & Accolades

I am completely honored to share that Ellen Outside the Lines won a Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor at the 2023 American Library Association Youth Media Awards! Watch a video of the event here (Ellen receives its award about 10 minutes in) and learn about the other Sydney Taylor winners, silver medalists, and notable titles here.

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Ellen Outside the Lines is a 2023 ALA Rainbow Book List Top 10 Title for Young Readers. What a complete thrill to have both my debut and sophomore novels make this list! The full list can be viewed here (PDF).

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Ellen Outside the Lines was one of five middle grade finalists for the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the only-of-its-kind award that is judged by an author’s peers out of hundreds of middle grade books published within the same year. To see the other finalists and watch a recording of the gala, click here.

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Ellen Outside the Lines has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection! 🎉 

Praise for Ellen Outside the Lines

⭐️  “Sass’ sophomore novel shines in its nuanced characterizations, subversion of stereotypes, and world that celebrates autism for the joy it brings Ellen when they are happily flapping. A tender, sweet coming-of-age story.”

Booklist, starred review

⭐️  “[T]houghtfully deals with gender identity and fluidity at various levels. A heartwarming and inviting book about finding self that hits at the ever-changing (and challenging) world of middle school. Recommended for all middle grade shelves.”

School Library Journal, starred review

“The story’s beautiful locales and scavenger hunt puzzles frame a heartwarming story about a transitional period in life, conveyed alongside an affirming, incidental portrayal of Ellen’s experiences.”

Publishers Weekly

“Ellen is a satisfyingly well-rounded character with complex relationships who makes mistakes and learns from them while figuring things out about herself, including trying out an adjustment to her—or maybe sometimes their—own pronouns.”

The Horn Book

“As someone who has advocated for disability and queer kidlit for decades, in libraries and in writing, to see this level of authentic representation and excellent characterization is extraordinary. A.J. Sass has established himself as a master storyteller. The book cast a spell on me.”

Ann Clare LeZotte, award-winning author of Show Me A Sign and Set Me Free (via Goodreads)