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Book Review

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Seventeen-year-old Chloe Mitchell lives in Los Angeles with her mom, stepdad and autistic older sister, Ivy. Ivy is 21, but Chloe has always felt the need to protect and care for her. Chloe is popular and has a rich, attractive boyfriend named James. She tries not to talk much about Ivy to James or her friends because she doesn’t want to be too serious and damage her light-hearted relationships.

When Chloe begins to sense Ivy’s loneliness, she decides to find a boyfriend for Ivy. She visits Ivy’s school and picks out a classmate named Ethan, who is also autistic. Ivy says she’s willing to hang out with Ethan outside of class, but only if Chloe is there, too. When Chloe and Ivy meet up with Ethan, his brother is with them. Chloe quickly recognizes him as the smart but surly David from her literature class. They have often exchanged barbs in the past, but they decide to be cordial for their siblings’ sakes.

Chloe and David text each other and set up a number of dates for Ivy and Ethan. Despite Ethan’s respectfulness, and the fact that he’s falling for Ivy, she seems passive about the relationship. Chloe and David often find themselves chatting while their siblings watch movies. They realize they have a lot in common as the protectors of their differently abled family members.

Chloe watches David’s angry responses to people who act bothered by Ivy’s and Ethan’s “abnormal” behavior in public. While Chloe doesn’t quite understand his belligerence, she realizes she doesn’t advocate for her sister or express her own feelings enough. She begins to be more vocal when James and her friends make inappropriate comments about Ivy’s special needs. They wonder why she’s acting this way and make snide remarks about her spending so much time with David.

Ivy asks Chloe if she can meet up with Diana, her good friend from class. Ivy has mentioned Diana often. When Chloe sees them together and witnesses Ivy’s affectionate behavior, she becomes convinced Ivy is gay. Ivy confirms that she wants to kiss and be with Diana in ways she doesn’t with Ethan.

Chloe tells David what she’s discovered. David is concerned, knowing his brother’s heart will be broken. Chloe and Ivy sit down with Ethan at the their house and tell him Ivy is gay. Ethan says he has to go to the bathroom. When he doesn’t return for some time, David comes in from the car. They can’t find Ethan, and everyone becomes concerned.

The police get involved as a search ensues. David is angry that Chloe wasn’t monitoring the situation better. He sends her short texts with status updates but won’t offer any details or kind words. When Ethan is finally found, his dad and stepmother decide he needs to be sent to a group home.

Chloe is surprised when her mom and stepdad offer to go with her to talk to David’s parents. Chloe’s family tries to urge them not to institutionalize Ethan. David’s family doesn’t take kindly to the intrusion. David is still angry with Chloe, but he appreciates the effort she’s made to advocate for Ethan.

Chloe and James break up when she realizes she is falling for David. She and David finally talk things out, and David admits he cares for her as well. After Ethan has been in his new home for a few weeks, Chloe and David visit him. David tries to convince Ethan to come home, but Chloe realizes Ethan is actually thriving in his new environment.

She and David discuss it over lunch, and David realizes he is projecting his own feelings because he’s so used to caring for his brother. Chloe wonders if Ivy would function well in a facility like this one. She and David continue to date, and both make greater efforts to get along with their own and each other’s stepparents. Chloe hopes Ivy will find another gay, autistic girl with whom to bond.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Chloe’s friend makes a comment in class about “real” religion, referring to Judeo-Christian beliefs. Chloe and David quickly argue that there are many other religions and that it’s ignorant to assume everyone believes the same thing. It’s also wrong to say one religion is more real than another.

Authority Roles

David and Ethan’s mother abandoned the family years earlier. Their stepmother has a newborn and is highly concerned the baby will be autistic like Ethan. She makes a number of offensive comments about autism and is anxious to get Ethan out of their home.

Chloe’s weak-willed mother lets Chloe’s stepfather, Ron, call the shots in their home. She’s always trying to smooth things over between him and the girls. Ron gives Ivy a hard time about the food she eats and frequently criticizes her nutritional choices.

The relationship between Ron and Chloe improves as he demonstrates his desire to support her and Ivy. When Chloe reflects on her dead father’s behavior, she wonders if he was somewhat autistic.


The Lord’s name is used in vain frequently. Words including the f-word, s---, h---, suck, d--n, a--, b--tard, crap, douchebag, p---, orgasmic and d--k appear repeatedly.


Chloe and her boyfriends share kisses and sexual touches, and Chloe is often the instigator. They often banter using sexual innuendos, and intercourse is implied as a normal part of their relationship. She compares her intimate relationships with James and David. Even though James was attractive, she feels more passion with David because of who he is as a person. She talks about how she enjoys teasing David sexually.

Chloe mentions hooking up with guys at parties at different times. She talks about the burning, pulsating sensation people feel when they want to be physically close to one another. James and his friends make sexual jokes about a dowdy teacher.

Chloe and her mom try to gauge how much Ivy understands about sex. Chloe assumes Ivy knows what sex is because she watches so much TV and Mom has shown her picture books about changing bodies. Chloe tells her mom that Ivy is probably more interested in guys than they realize, since she’s 20 and most 20-year-olds have already had sex.

Chloe decides she needs to explain condoms to Ivy so she won’t get pregnant accidentally. Chloe and David discuss how they are coaching their siblings in the physical part of their relationship. They urge Ethan to hold Ivy’s hand or kiss her, but not to cop a feel or touch her boobs. They discuss whether girls like looking at pornography as much as guys do. Chloe thinks it’s sexist that David thinks girls don’t like it.

Ron says Chloe and Ivy need a father, and Chloe says this is an insult to lesbian parents everywhere. When Chloe determines Ivy is gay and mentions it, Ivy agrees that she thinks she is. She admits that she wants to kiss Diana, not Ethan. They discuss how people can love people in many different ways and that some people are homosexual or bisexual.

Ivy feels like people are angry with her for being gay, but everyone assures her they are not. Ivy’s feelings are hurt when the female friend from school she likes tells her being gay isn’t normal. When Ethan suggests being gay isn’t Ivy’s fault, David says it isn’t really a fault type of situation.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Chloe’s mom and Ron frequently drink wine. Chloe feels uncomfortable when Ron takes her on an errand and drives after drinking. She’s annoyed that he criticizes Ivy’s eating habits but drinks so much himself. She becomes more understanding of his penchant for alcohol after she sees what he goes through at work. Ivy mentions she’ll be able to drink alcohol soon.

Weight issues: Ron makes comments to Ivy about how pretty she could be if she ate less junk food. He asks her if she ever wants a boyfriend, and says she could mess all that up by becoming pimply and fat.

Valuing life: A number of adults draw back in fear, disgust or concern when they witness Ivy’s and Ethan’s behavior in public. David theorizes that people can deal with folks who are obviously disabled, but they don’t know how to respond to people who look fairly normal but behave differently.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 18


Claire LaZebnik






Record Label



Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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