Margin Notes



Anna Hunt’s family has moved from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin and when Anna begins eighth grade at East Middle School, her Social Issues class is assigned an un-essay—a semester long project instead of an exam—on a social topic of their choosing.

At first, Anna struggles to come up with a topic for her project. But as she watches Rachel Riley being ostracized by their entire grade, she spends some time on Rachel’s social media and discovers that the year before Rachel had many friends in their class. Anna decides to take a deeper dive into what happened. She turns her un-essay into an investigation and presents her findings in a podcast series.

As Anna compiles evidence for her un-essay, she uncovers many challenging truths about bullying, toxic masculinity, and the disconnect that sometimes exists between our words and our actions. As she explains in a letter to her teacher:

Enclosed you will find the results of my research. In addition to my notebook, you will also find one pair of swim trunks, an old iPhone with recorded interviews, a gift certificate for Lee’s dairy Emporium, a purple lighter, a stapled packet of text message transcripts, and a pack of hallway passes. The passes were stolen from Mr. Corey’s desk in the art room—you can return them if you want.

I hope you learn, from everything in this box, how Rachel Riley went from the most popular girl in school to a Complete Social Outcast of the First Degree. I hope you learn that when asking a complicated question, you should prepare for that question to shake and quake into a thousand more. Because people, like fires, can surprise you. And lies, like flames, can spread faster than we can put them out.

Told through prose, letters, emails, texts, and audio transcripts, What Happened to Rachel Riley? is a fantastic read-alike for readers who enjoyed Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone and Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee.

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