What Happened to Rachel Riley? (Hardcover)

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What Happened to Rachel Riley? By Claire Swinarski Cover Image
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Staff Reviews

Through a series of emails, passed notes, posts, recordings, texts and traditional narrative, Swinarski tells the story of a new girl at East Middle School who’s trying to solve a mystery. Her teacher gave the class a semester-long un-essay project on any social issue of their choice. Forget recycling. Anna Hunt has a more important social question. How did a girl who was thoughtful enough to help a lost new kid on the first school day go from being super popular to being completely shut out? Nobody will talk about it, and people keep asking why Anna cares. After all, her questions are limiting any hope that she'll find new friends for herself. So, why care? Well, she just does. A nice person like Rachel Riley shouldn’t face dead silence when the principal reads her name on the day's list of Birthdays. I enjoyed this story very much. It has the feel of a good mystery, as Swinarski rolls out a compelling, nuanced plot. Best of all, the beautifully developed characters confront issues and have messages that matter to me. A lot! Oh, and the book is set in Madison. Swinarski is a lifelong Wisconsinite.

— Tim McCarthy

January/February 2023 Kids Indie Next List

“This book turns the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse on its head and empowers all genders to stand up for what they know is right. While the book deals with a serious topic, the way it’s written makes it a fun, entertaining, and relatable story.”
— Nancy Baenen, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI


  • ALA Notable Children's Book
  • Regional Indie Bestseller
  • Audie Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Nominee
  • Cybils Award Nominee
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • New York Public Library Best Book of the Year
  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best
  • Amazon Best Book of the Year
  • SLJ Best Book of the Year
  • Texas Lone Star Reading List
  • Capital Choices Noteworthy Book for Children
  • BookPage Best Book of the Year

In this engrossing and inventive contemporary middle grade novel that's Where'd You Go, Bernadette with a #MeToo message, an eighth grader uses social media posts, passed notes, and other clues to find out why a formerly popular girl is now the pariah of her new school. 

Anna Hunt may be the new girl at East Middle School, but she can already tell there’s something off about her eighth-grade class. Rachel Riley, who just last year was one of the most popular girls in school, has become a social outcast. But no one, including Rachel Riley herself, will tell Anna why.

As a die-hard podcast enthusiast, Anna knows there’s always more to a story than meets the eye. So she decides to put her fact-seeking skills to the test and create her own podcast around the question that won’t stop running through her head: What happened to Rachel Riley?

With the entire eighth grade working against her, Anna dives headfirst into the evidence. Clue after clue, the mystery widens, painting an even more complex story than Anna could have anticipated. But there’s one thing she’s certain of: If you’re going to ask a complicated question, you better be prepared for the fallout that may come with the answer. 

About the Author

Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books for both kids and adults. Her writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Seventeen, Milwaukee magazine, and many other publications. She lives in small-town Wisconsin with her husband and three kids, where she writes books, wears babies, and wrangles bread dough.

Praise For…

"What Happened to Rachel Riley has every single thing a middle grade reader could want: a twisty mystery; relatable, authentic teen characters; and the kind of demonstrated courage that seeps into our souls and leaves us feeling brave. This book is going to change lives." — Carrie Firestone, author of Dress Coded

"What begins as a look into bullying and the social politics of middle school expands into a revealing study of sexual harassment. An empowering and empathetic companion to Barbara Dee's Maybe He Just Likes You and Brigit Young's The Prettiest." — Booklist (starred review)

"This book is incredibly relevant and empowering for readers, and would serve as a powerful conversation starter. Swinarski’s writing is compelling and multifaceted, tackling themes of friendship, betrayal, and harassment beautifully, while keeping them accessible to middle schoolers. Hand to fans of Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You." — School Library Journal (starred review)

"Both timely and, unfortunately, timeless in its depiction of systemic sexual harassment and and frustratingly inappropriate reactions from authority figures and peers. This compelling novel urges readers to consider what they might do in similar situations and reminds them that 'sometimes, fairness has to be demanded instead of waited for.'" — BookPage.com (starred review)

"A good fit for classroom or book club reading and discussion [and] a useful addition to the pool of middle-grade books about sexual harassment at school." — Kirkus Reviews

"In a quietly suspenseful book, Swinarski shows how frequently written-off behavior can constitute sexual harassment, and how individuals can create change by having the courage to question the narrative." — Publishers Weekly

"The unraveling mystery is compelling. Pair this with Maybe He Just Likes You for a much-needed conversation with middle schoolers about harassment." — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063213098
ISBN-10: 0063213095
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Publication Date: January 10th, 2023
Pages: 352
Language: English