Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, a companion novel to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter, publishes on August 3, 2021.

First heartbreaks. Fierce competition. Family Drama.

Who knew middle school would be so hard?

I’m pleased to announce that you can pre-order the book now. If you pre-order from my local independent bookstore Bank Square Books/Savoy Bookshop & Café, you will receive a personalized signed book and swag: Jenna Sakai bookmark, a limited edition Heartbreak is for Suckers button, a cover sticker or Leigh’s Diner sticker, and one of four of Jenna Sakai’s doodle stickers.


Additionally, for each pre-order, you will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize of a lavender backpack, a limited edition Leigh’s Diner mug, a package of Jenna’s favorite Japanese curry mix, chopsticks, and items from the actual cover shoot: 2 notebooks (one w Inuyasha stickers), coin purse, 2 enamel pins, and a set of pens. (Thank you to cover designer Stephanie Yang and to Scholastic for donating the cover items!) Winner will be drawn the morning of August 3. US mailing addresses only for grand prize.


Thank you, as always, for all your support. I hope you will love Jenna’s story as much as you loved Keiko’s!


If you’d like the book personalized, just leave the name in the comments when you check out.



Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai: News, Reviews, & Interviews

This is where you’ll find updated news and links to reviews and interviews. I’ll be updating regularly. Thanks for all your support!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai is available now!

August 3, 2021 (Scholastic)

“Heartbreak is for suckers.”

When Jenna Sakai gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what she learned from her parents’ messy divorce: Relationships are risky and only lead to disappointment. So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this semester — no boys, just books.

But keeping her cool isn’t always easy. Jenna’s chief competition for a big journalism scholarship is none other than her ex-. Her best friend Keiko always seems busy with her own boyfriend. And cute-but-incredibly-annoying Rin Watanabe keeps stealing her booth at the diner she’s been hiding at every day after school. Rin is every bit as stubborn and detached as Jenna. And the more Jenna gets to know him, the more intriguing a mystery he seems. Soon Jenna is starting to realize that being a loner is kind of, well, lonely. And letting people in might just be a risk worth taking.

This book is full of family drama and first crushes, independent girls, and friendship.

Starred review from Kirkus!

“Florence offers a tightly written narrative that is as fearless as it is balanced, diving into complicated feelings of distrust and isolation while still offering glimmers of friendship and hope. Jenna’s honest voice shines with clarity, portraying a flawed but relatable protagonist whom readers will root for. This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful.”

From award-winning author, Jo Knowles: “Fans of Keep it Together, Keiko Carter will love this beautiful companion novel about Jenna Sakai and her struggle to “stay cool” when life gets messy. Jenna’s determination to avoid heartbreak by building walls between herself and those who love her comes at a lonely cost, but the journey leads to a deeper understanding of her own heart, and her capacity to love and be loved. A beautiful story about healing from heartbreak, and discovering the strength that comes from opening your heart to others. Jenna is a gem!

NEW! Montclair Baristanet: 21 Hot Summer Reads for All Ages – “…a layered, thoughtful, and light exploration of how middle schoolers respond to dramas big (family divorce) and not-so-big (academic competition, friendship changes).”

My interview on Reading Middle Grade about writing interesting dynamic characters, art, and bringing friendships to life on the page.

Q&A with The Nerd Daily about books, writing and more!

YAYOMG! Jenna Sakai Shares Five Ways to Just Be Cool When Things Aren’t Going Your Way

Interview with Debbi Michiko Florence on Bee The Love

Imagination Soup: Writing The Stories I Looked for as an Asian American Reader

A Bookish Home Podcast: Debbi Michiko Florence on Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai

This One Is Dedicated To with Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler

Book Review from Reading Middle Grade

Book Review from Juanita Giles, NPR – Are You There God? It’s Me, Juanita

Book Review from Youth Services Book Review

Book talk by Read with Val

Book Review from Bridget and the Books

Color of Us: The 50 Best Multicultural Middle Grade Novels of 2021

Book Riot: 14 Must-Read August Book Releases

Just Be Cool Jenna Sakai Book Talk

The galleys of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai are landing in mailboxes! This is always an exciting and nerve-wracking time for an author. It’s like letting your baby go into the world. The story and characters went from being in my head, in a file on my laptop, to printed pages – from being mine to becoming yours.

Many thanks to Val of Read with Val who just posted a cover recreation and a book talk on her YouTube channel! Make sure to check it out for her review and who her favorite character is and why. Readers are the best!

Didn’t Val do an amazing job? She even colored her hair to channel Jenna! Thanks also to cover model Zoe Manarel, cover designer Stephanie Yang, and Michael Frost Photography, and of course to Scholastic!

Project LIT

I am thrilled that Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a 2020-2021 Project LIT Book Club selection!

Knowing that teachers and librarians will be sharing my book with their students brings me so much joy. Thank you Project LIT for this honor!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai Cover Reveal

It is an absolute thrill to be able to share with you all the cover of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, the companion novel to Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. For those of you who have read Keiko Carter, you know that she’s a bit of a people pleaser, so it was a fun change of pace to write a story about Jenna who is a confident straight-shooter. This book is full of family drama and crushes, independent girls, and of course friendships. Jenna’s motto is “heartbreak is for suckers” and though she’s dealing with her parents’ divorce, her dad moving out of state, and her first boyfriend dumping her, she’s an expert at avoiding her feelings. When a cute but annoying guy shows up in her booth at her favorite diner, Jenna is determined to ignore him, but will she succeed? This is a story about learning to let people in and be vulnerable.  Oh and while Keiko Carter readers craved chocolate and boba tea, this time get ready to crave milkshakes and Japanese curry!

I love this cover SO much! Thank you to the talented team at Scholastic and to cover designer extraordinaire Stephanie Yang. Thank you also to photographer Michael Frost and to the cover model Zoe Manarel who is truly a perfect Jenna. I hope you love this cover as much as I do!

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai by Debbi Michiko Florence

Scholastic Press/August 3, 2021

Stay tuned ARC giveaways and pre-order campaign information. It would be wonderful if you could go to GoodReads and mark this book as “want to read.”



Tweens Read

I’m super excited to be a participating author in Tweens Read 2020 which is going virtual this year.

The event will take place October 19 – 24. More information coming soon!

Junior Library Guild

I am overjoyed and so filled with gratitude that Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection!

More Keep It Together, Keiko Carter News

I’m thrilled and honored to learn that Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is a New England Book Award finalist! Thank you New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA).

Congratulations to all the finalists! I’m so awed to see Keiko in such amazing company!

Keep It Together, Keiko Carter is in French! I’m over-the-moon happy to know that readers in France will get to meet and hopefully fall in love with Keiko.

Les coups de coeur de Keiko Carter/Michel Lafon 2020

Happy reading!


Day 4 of Keep It Together, Keiko Carter Launch Week Giveaway

Thank you to everyone for playing along and helping me celebrate my debut middle grade novel! Today is the last day of festivities with a special prize. Not only will you get a signed copy of my book, but you will get something special, too!

As I’ve mentioned, Keiko Carter loves chocolate. The book opens up with her eating M&Ms so what better way to end the week of celebration – with M&Ms! But not just any M&Ms, custom Keiko Carter M&Ms!

M&Ms in pink, blue, purple inscribed with Keiko, Jenna, Audrey, and a heart!


What’s the special prize along with a signed copy of Keep It Together, Keiko Carter? This baggie of custom M&Ms with a special edition hologram sticker of the cover:


What do you have to do to win? Guess the number of M&Ms in this jar:

Find my post on Twitter or Instagram and comment with your guess. The person with the correct number wins! If more than one person guesses the correct number, I will randomly draw a winner from the correct guesses. If no one guesses the correct number, I will gather the guesses closest to the correct number and randomly draw a winner on Saturday, May 9 in the morning EDT. US mailing addresses only! Good luck!

Thank you again for making my launch week feel like a party!

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to FMMS Library for winning with the closest guess of 164! (Correct answer was 165.) And thank you again to everyone for helping me celebrate!