Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh captured my attention because I saw in the synopsis that it it told through letters, journal entries, and lists. I love books like that and don't know that I've ever read one in the MG age category.
Middle School. Ugh. Who ever wants to have to do that again? For those currently in the thick of it, Always, Abigail is the perfect book. Abigail's voice is so perfectly honest and real. She comes across as genuine, vulnerable, and sympathetic. I was wondering how well the list/letter format would work in a MG. The tricky part of writing a book like that is that the voice has to completely reflect the character. The author can't sneak in or it becomes glaringly obvious. Cavanaugh avoided this pitfall nicely. As an adult reading this book, I wanted to shake Abigail quite a few times. She was being mean, cowardly, and downright silly about what she though was important. For a kid negotiating the minefield that is middle school society, Abigail will seem like a true reflection of their inner selves. She doesn't want to be a mean girl, but she doesn't want to be a social outcast. One would think a balance could be reached between those two, but it is easy to see how Abigail wouldn't see it that way. Everything feels so urgent and dramatic when you're 11. Gabby's character was also well done. The two girls truly bond, and that is seen clearly in their notes and activities. I loved Gabby's voice in her letters to Abigail, particularly that first one. She is subversively snarky and she is a brilliant foil for Abigail. The only characterization I wasn't happy with were Abigail's best friends, Allie and Cami, who she collectively refers to as Allicam. I really didn't understand why there needed to be two of them, when they were so easily conflated into one snotty unpleasant persona.
The school setting of the book is incredibly realistic. I liked how Abigail's homeroom teacher operated, and that she was rather clueless at times but also an inspiration. Far more realistic than teachers are often portrayed. I also liked how real the behavior of the kids on the bus was, and how the nothing was done to stop it. Everything in the book is very true to life. When the time comes for Abigail to make a choice, there is no cheesy made-for-TV-hero moment either. And the way she loses her temper in the slightly crazy way girls her age so often do, not really accomplishing much but making herself feel better, was the perfect touch.
I enjoyed Always, Abigail very much and can not wait to share it with my daughter (who I know will love it).
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Always Abigail is available for purchase now. (less)
When I saw My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros show up on NetGalley, I knew immediately that I had to read it. I love books about music, friendship, and fitting in. These are the type of realistic books that appeal to my daughter and her friends right now, and that I have no trouble selling to kids looking for recommendations. It is always nice to find one that is especially well done and is truly relatable to the kids who read it. I think My Year of Epic Rock is one of those for sure.
Nina's voice is spot on seventh grade girl. It is genuine in every way possible, as is Nina's journey of self-discovery through the rocky start of the school year. Who hasn't weathered the pain and heartbreak that comes from a friendship changing or ending due to the trials of growing up? It is a story so many people can relate to, and that a good deal of the target audience may be experiencing as they read this. Pyros does such a great job of depicting the emotions and confusion involved so well. I particularly liked this thought of Nina's: I felt like the way girls feel in songs when they sing about a boy leaving them. How come no one ever sings a song about a friend leaving you for a newer friend.? This had to hurt as much as a romance ending, right? Or maybe a guy breaking your heart was worse. In which case, remind me never, ever, to fall in love. Because losing your best friend IS as devastating if not more so, particularly at this age when everything feels like it is spinning out of your control anyway. What I really like about Nina's story, is that it is just her story. Readers may find in it that they are not alone and they may find some inspiration for making it through a similar situation, or it can be read just as an interesting look at this one girl's life and journey through middle school. Nina is also awkward, an ordinary student, makes some normal mistakes, and tries to make up for them the best way she knows how. She is incredibly easy to relate to, and yet her voice is also strong and so assuredly hers, that she comes across an actual real person in her own right. (Not so flat and lacking nuance that the reader can just insert themselves into her position.)
The cast of supporting characters is equally engaging. Nina's parents are supportive and active. They are typical parents who love, annoy, and embarrass their middle school daughter. She appreciates them for all these things. The other EpiPen members each have their own distinct personalities and contribute to the story as well. Some more than others, but as a team they are all essential. I also appreciated how the personalities of Brianna (the former best friend) and Shelly (the new super popular girl) are handled. They say some mean and snarky things as 7th grade girls are wont to do, but they are not superficially inflated into caricatures of middle school villains. I also love how diverse the cast of characters is, and how that diversity isn't remarked on, it just is.
The book is mostly a school and friendship story that uses the plot of the band to move things along a set timeline. I do like the way the band stuff was handled. All of the kids come into it already knowing how to play their instruments. When they start out, they are terrible. They actually have to work hard and practice to be able to perform. There was no magic, "hey we're suddenly awesome" moment. And while their performance goes well, it is accompanied by the awkwardness and nerves typical of a middle school talent show.
This is a novel I will be recommending to the kids I know who love these sorts of books, my own daughter being top on my list. She will definitely enjoy it. It is certainly one I would recommend having on hand in a school and classroom libraries. It is written in a way that the 4th-5th graders who want to read (and there will be lots) will be a able to, and at the same time middle schoolers will enjoy it and relate as well. (less)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.
This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is.
The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.
The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE.
Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling.
The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general. (less)
Honestly what attracted me to A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget was the cover. That cover attraction proved to be really strong because I usually do not jump on books whose descriptions begin with: "A moving middle-grade story about love, loss, and the unlikely places we find home." Because that usually screams guidance-counselor-fiction-looking-for-grown-up-readers-who-will-force-it-on-kids to me. I try to avoid those. I'm so happy that I didn't avoid this one because it does not read like those books at all and I adored it.
Poppy makes so many decisions that are not well thought out or anywhere close to being good. She is impulsive and headstrong, a dangerous combination. And more than one time over the course of the novel danger is exactly what it lands her in. Poppy is also a girl with a huge heart and a desire to keep a place for herself in the world. Her life is spiraling out of control and she wants to regain balance. Fortunately for her the impulsive decisions and danger bring a police detective, his mother, a lonely girl, and a dog in need of love into her life. She changes them and they change her and it is a lovely story to read, one about relationships, cause and effect, and discovery. The characters and their relationships are at the core of this novel. Poppy and her grandmother are close and her grandmother works hard to do what is best for her. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the relationships develop between Poppy and Trey and Marti. Trey is the detective in charge of Poppy and Marti is his mother. The relationship between Trey and Marti is a wonderful one as well. Relationships between an adult and their parent are often not seen much in MG fiction unless central to a generational story involving the child so it was refreshing to see. It is not focused on, but it is there and it is a great thing. One thing I really appreciated about this book is all the adults behaved the way you would expect adults to behave. They were adults. That is something that shouldn't be quite so rare in MG fiction, but is.
There is a whole lot of dramatic action in this plot, some of it violent and full of terror. It causes the book to get off to a crazy start and sucks you in until the very end. I had a very hard time putting it down. It is a book about relationships, home, and family, but there is also a murder investigation going on and a suspect on the loose with the protagonist right in the middle of all that. It makes for an engrossing read. I felt that the drama was not overblown though, it was exactly realistic enough and kept the danger at a distance that is close enough to see as real, but not frighten a child reader. I will also add that this book had its sad moments. I'm not a crier when I read, but this book had me tearing up. I did think the plot and end were predictable (then again I'm an adult reader with years of experience), but the emotions behind the end were strong and conveyed in a perfect non-sappy way.
A Million Ways Home is a great choice for those who enjoy realistic fiction, thrillers, animal stories, or just darn good books.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Scholastic Press, via NetGalley. Million Ways Home goes on sale August 26th. (less)
Emotionally moving and informative story of Hurricane Katrina, this is a book that packs a punch. Lamana does an excellent job setting the scene and d...moreEmotionally moving and informative story of Hurricane Katrina, this is a book that packs a punch. Lamana does an excellent job setting the scene and describing what is going on. There are places where you actually feel you are and she does not shy away from including all of the ugly truths, but includes them in a way that works well for the intended audience. It is never overwhelming and has exactly the right amount of action balanced with emotion to keep readers engaged. That is no small thing to do when dealing with an event of this magnitude. (less)
This is a quick, sweet, warm-hearted read. Mattie's voice is so engrossing that even though this is a quiet book without a lot of action the reader st...moreThis is a quick, sweet, warm-hearted read. Mattie's voice is so engrossing that even though this is a quiet book without a lot of action the reader stays engaged in the story, interesting in what is happening. This is a wonderful book for seeing what the inner workings of other people's minds might be like, the secrets they guard, and the struggles they have. Even when they seem inconsequential to us, they may mean a major obstacle to someone else. I also thoroughly enjoyed the characterization of all the adults in the novel. Definitely my favorite of Urban's books. (less)
This is a fun mystery that involves old family secrets and following clues to hidden treasure. It is one of those books that I think will be an easy s...moreThis is a fun mystery that involves old family secrets and following clues to hidden treasure. It is one of those books that I think will be an easy sell to kids, but not necessarily one all kids will stick with to the end. I did like the way the mystery unfolded, and it had a lot of humor in it. There is a villain and some mild danger, so nothing too scary. It could easily by enjoyed by more advanced younger readers as well. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
One look at the cover was all it took to hook me in. Then the premise, a boy who carries br...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
One look at the cover was all it took to hook me in. Then the premise, a boy who carries break up messages for a fee, sealed the deal. The Hearbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance is so much fun to read.
Quentin is a delightful main character. He is savvy enough to take advantage of a great business idea, yet so clueless when it comes to understanding relationships. He is not completely in his money making scheme for selfish reasons, but he isn't completely altruistic either. He comes across as genuine. He learns some important lessons about love and the human condition from his encounters with the people he brings his break up messages to. The impact this has on him is believable. Quentin's new business also affects his relationships with his two best friends. I appreciated how the friendships are portrayed, despite it being the oh so typical two boys-one girl friendship that pops up so much in MG books. It is used so much because it works well. Watching Quentin face the truth of his feelings for Abby was amusing and excruciating. Everything about them is so typical of the age.
The different scenarios Quentin finds himself in due to his job are hilarious. I wondered if it would start to get old, but it didn't. Vance wrote each encounter in a fresh way giving life to all of the heartbreakers and heartbreakees. All of them have the humor that comes from Quentin's awkwardness, but each also stresses the reality of how hard relationships really are.
The Heartbreak Messenger will have wide appeal. Boys. Girls. Romantics. Anti-Romantics. There is something here for everyone.
I read a galley made available by the publisher, Feiwel & Friends. The Heartbreak Messenger is available for purchase July 23, 2013. (less)
On the one hand I really like the portrayal of homelessness and the stark reality of the life too many children in the country are leading. On the oth...moreOn the one hand I really like the portrayal of homelessness and the stark reality of the life too many children in the country are leading. On the other hand I feel the unrealistic aspects of the plot did this sort of a disservice. I found the scenario,the spying,the mystery too wholly unbelievable to take seriously. I doubt kids will have the same problem though and definitely plan to talk this book up. I do love the language and the connections to Langston Hughes. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
It's a new Hilary McKay novel!!! That is really as long as this review needs to be right? It...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
It's a new Hilary McKay novel!!! That is really as long as this review needs to be right? It should be. But alas, some of you may not know about the wonderful Hilary McKay so I'll tell you a bit more. Binny for Short is wonderful, a terrific read for summer, or anytime you need a little summer in your life.
Anyone who has read McKay before will feel comfortable within the pages of this book. It is so nice to start a story, sit back, and know your in the hands of an author you can trust. Those unfamiliar with McKay are in for a treat as they discover the wonderful characters she creates and the stories she builds around them. Binny's story starts out pretty dire. Her father has died, her dog has been moved to parts unknown, and nothing is as it was. Binny is haunted by the hole her missing dog left in her life. She is haunted by how much less she can remember her father than her dog. She believes she is being literally haunted by her mean Aunt Violet who has left them her house. Binny is so delightfully 11, and I say that without any sarcasm. Gareth, whose family owns the house next door, becomes her instant frenemy. He is oh so obnoxious, doesn't like anything, and yet you can't help but want to hug him. He and Binny have some great adventures.
As always in true McKay style this is a perfect sibling story. Clem, Binny's older sister, and James, her crazy younger brother, play large roles and their personalities take up just as much space as Binny's. Their mother is stressed and overworked so the kids have to work together to help her out and take of each other.
The seaside village where the family moves is wonderful too. McKay brought it to life in so many wonderful ways. One can almost smell the salty fishy air and feel the sea breeze as one reads. Everything about the place, from the quaint diner to the tourist robbing seal boat to the seals themselves, give the reader a definite sense of place.
And can I also say, while trying to avoid outright spoilers, in a world where so many MG books feature tragically dead dogs this is a nice breath of fresh air.
I read an e-galley received from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss. Binny for Short will be available for purchase on July 23. (less)
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage is a novel I wasn't super excited about reading. I admit it. And I was wrong about assuming I would hate it. I didn't. In fact, I found it to be delightful and charming and completely worthwhile.
So why didn't I want to read it?
1. I understood it to be yet another MG novel about a girl who has been orphaned/abandoned/has-parent-separation-issues-of-some-kind and the community that embraces her. And yes, it is. And yes, I'm thoroughly sick of these. HOWEVER, Turnage made it work in a way most authors don't (for me-I know there are people who eat these novels up like chocolate-I'm not one of them). This one is different. It may be Mo's voice which is endearing, sarcastic, and vulnerable all at once. It may be how real both her and Dale seemed from start to finish. It may have been the end, which blessedly went the way I was hoping it would. It may be the humor. Mostly I think what made the difference is that it is not one of those introspective-let's-hold-hands-and-sing type of stories. There are murders, kids playing detectives exactly as kids would, race car crashes, hurricanes, dangerous villains, and a mystery. The book is an action packed funny adventure. I could hand this book to a kid and feel assured they would have fun while reading it.
2. The words "quirky" and "southern" were being used a great deal in conjunction with each other while discussing this book. I, living in the south, have about had it with this too. We are not all that quirky here. I have spent the majority of my adult life living in North Carolina, where the book takes place. And yes, the book has plenty of quirky. There are a whole host of quirky characters, and how they all managed to find the same town to reside in together is an interesting thing to ponder. People, don't walk away from this thinking all small southern towns are flowing with this level of quirky, because they're not. HOWEVER, Turnage made it work. Mostly because the entire book is outlandish. It reads almost like a Tall Tale, so the quirky people work and they fit the story. Mo is a storyteller and this is her telling the story at her best. The contrast of the character from Winston-Salem helped too.
If you are looking for a contemporary story of friendship and family and would like those alongside a fun murder mystery-this book is for you. If , like me, you have avoided this thinking it is more of the same old thing-I urge you to reconsider. (less)
Clare Vanderpool won the 2011 Newbery Award for her debut novel Moon Over Manifest. You can bet that many will be keeping their eyes on her new MG novel, Navigating Early. I personally enjoyed this one far more than the first, though not unequivocally.
Early is a wonderful character. In today's world he would be labeled as someone with Asperger's. In the 1940's setting of this novel he is simply labeled as strange. When Jack first meets him he tries to decipher: Was he straitjacket strange or just go-off-by-yourself-at-recess-and-put-bugs-in-your-nose strange? Jack's opinion on this wavers as the story unfolds but in the end he summarizes it perfectly. Early has a strange convoluted and amazing mind. Early's character is so incredibly likeable in all of his strangeness. The way he "sees" the story in the numbers of Pi and how he tells it is intriguing.
Jack is the voice of the story, the character through whom we see everything and I had a harder time with him. He is lonely, confused, and feeling stranded. He is most certainly a sympathetic character. He is also delightfully snarky at times. And I love a good snarky character. But there are times when he doesn't sound anything like the 13 year old boy he is characterized as. He sounds an awful lot like I imagine the author might sound. He speaks with beautiful imagery and description for sure, but it doesn't entirely fit with the picture I had of his character.
The concept for the book is an ambitious one. The plot gets off to a slow start, but once the adventure starts events are exciting. The boys' journey is paralleled by the story Early is telling of Pi. A story he reads in the number itself. This was well executed and interesting. Mathematicians may take issue with the fact that Vanderpool made up some of the digits of Pi to tell the story.
In many ways this is a book that has my different inner readers torn. Adult reader me thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't put it down. Parent-teacher me thinks it will be a difficult sell. And it is too long to teach a unit on, at least for my 4th-6th graders (who I only see once a week). It is definitely a pick for readers who enjoy a more introspective voice.
Navigating Early is available on January 8, 2013. I read a copy received from the publisher via NetGalley. (less)
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen has sat on my list of books to read for some time but shot quickly to the top when it showed up on the SLJ Best Children's Novels poll. It is now a favorite. I love everything about it.
It is love at first sight at the age of 7. For Juli anyway. She sees Bryce's amazing blue eyes and smile and knows that he is it for her. Bryce is of an entirely different mind. He, in fact, thinks she is a psycho stalker. This goes on through all of their elementary school years. Bryce sees Juli as an overbearing know it all who can't take a hint. Juli sees Bryce's beautiful eyes and brilliant smile. She misreads a great many of his actions. Then eighth grade happens and everything flips. It begins with Juli trying to save her favorite tree, a small event in the history of the town but a turning point in the minds of both Juli and Bryce. Bryce begins to see a different girl, one of passion and conviction and heart, who he would like to know better. Juli is soon convinced Bryce's beautiful eyes have no soul behind them and wants nothing more to do with him. He becomes desperate to show her (and himself) that she's wrong.
I love when a book is told in alternate voices and it's done RIGHT. This is done right. Two chapters, one a piece, and you have Bryce and Juli talking in your head. They sound significantly different and reading the scenes from both their perspectives proves how complex every little situation is, and how no two people ever see it the same way. I loved Bryce's sarcasm. I loved Juli's spirit. As the story continued I felt all of the emotions as they changed and grew. Juli's heartbreak as she realized her ideal boy was a fiction. Bryce's heartbreak as he begins to truly see the things around him and who he doesn't want to be. Juli's love and appreciation for her family. Bryce's embarrassment at his friends. All of this is told with heart and manages to be funny at the same time. Even heartbroken, Bryce is still snarky and Juli is still full of spirit.
Other things I loved: Bryce and his grandfather. Juli and Bryce's grandfather. Bryce's grandfather in general. Juli's whole awesome family. Bryce's mother. Basket Boys. The spot on middle school shenanigans involving the Basket Boys.(You're curious right? I will say no more. READ!)
This book has heart, soul, brains, everything you could want. And the end is absolutely perfect.(less)
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine is a good strong MG historical fiction novel. A spot should be saved on shelves for it in libraries and upper elementary classrooms. If you have a young voracious reader in your life who enjoys historical fiction with a strong minded female protagonist then put this book in their hands.
What I Enjoyed: * Marlee loves Math and wants to be an engineer when she grows up. In a world where a disproportionate number of MG protagonists seem to be bookish girls this was refreshing. (Not that I mind reading their stories. Not at all. I am, after all, a bookish girl myself. There just isn't nearly so many of us out there as the number of these characters make it seem.) * I like that the story chronicled what happened after the reporters and federal agents left. This is the year after the famous Little Rock Nine began school at Central High and shows what the fallout of that first year looked like. * The friendship between the girls was portrayed very well. * There were no anachronistic phrases or cleaning up of speech that I noticed. This is real Little Rock circa 1958.
What Bothered Me: * Marlee's voice was really inconsistent for a first person narrative. The writing moved between sounding like a 12 year old's writing and a 12 year old's thoughts. Those two things are worlds apart at that age. The simplicity of some sections compared to the maturity of others was jarring to me as a reader. * Historical details seemed to thrown in to the plot in heaping doses. I prefer when I'm reading historical fiction that the historical details be so much a part of the woven fabric of the story that you don't notice them every time they show up. I noticed in this. I may not have and it may not have annoyed me so much if I hadn't already read Peaceweaver and Crow, two MG novels that weave in historical detail exceptionally well, this year. * It's 298 pages.
Are kid readers going to notice the things that bothered me? Probably not. (Well except for the last one. That might be off putting to many of them. The cover is also not going to help with the kid appeal.)
It's a bit too long to teach in a history unit but is perfect to add to recommended reading lists or book report lists. (I'm adding it to mine.)(less)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby is a book I have had my eye on for a while. It is excellent historical fiction full of mystery, tre...moreOriginally posted here.
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby is a book I have had my eye on for a while. It is excellent historical fiction full of mystery, treachery, and deceit with Vikings and berserkers. I love when books are set in different times and places we don't have an overabundance of books about. So much the better when they are as well written as this one.
Solveig suffers from middle child syndrome in the worst kind of way. Her older sister is beautiful and valuable to their father in the marriage she may make. Her younger brother is the heir. She is plain, unhelpful, and unnoticed. As the story moves on Solveig comes to see she has valuable strengths that she can use to carve a place in the world for herself. I love stories like this, where the character embraces who they are and uses that rather than trying to become something they are not. I loved how Solveig came to see herself as worthy and began to care less about how others saw her. She is brave, smart, and talented and uses all of these to save her companions from the treachery they are facing. I enjoyed the sibling dynamic of the story as well and thought it played out very realistically.
I particularly enjoyed the way the setting reflected Solvieg's feelings and mood. The frozen cold of winter, the thawing, the breaking, and renewal. This parallel was subtle and done very well. The language is wonderfully descriptive:
I sit down. I don't want t o cry anymore, so I keep my thoughts away from Hilda and listen to the ice. It speaks to me of scouring winds, of cloudless nights, of endless cold. It measures its loneliness by the weight of its layers, the years and years of snow falling unobserved. I've been told its lament is the loudest at the beginning of winter and the coming of summer, as if it knows that is the closest it will ever come to warmth and thaw. As if it yearns for its own demise. But it can will be only what it is, bleak and alone, until the breaking of the world.
This language could have been too much and overdone but Kirby uses it sparingly. The result is that when he does it packs a punch and drives a point home.
The mystery was not a terribly difficult one to unravel (though it will be harder for a young reader) but I did enjoy watching the interactions between the people as it all unfolded.
Icefall was a finalist for this year's Cybil Awards in the category of MG science fiction and fantasy. I feel like calling this a fantasy is a bit of false advertising. It is fantasy in the same type of way one might classify Holes by Lois Sachar or Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta as fantasy. Which is to say I wouldn't. I'm clearly in the minority on this but I believe it is more accurately labeled as simple historical fiction. Of course it is also a mystery as its recent Edgar Award proves.
Nitpicky genre discussions aside, this is a book that will appeal to any who like stories with brave protagonists, mystery, action, and adventure.(less)
I don't enjoy animal books. Occasionally a book will come along that causes me to eat these words (The Tale of Despereaux, The...moreOriginally posted here.
I don't enjoy animal books. Occasionally a book will come along that causes me to eat these words (The Tale of Despereaux, The Cheshire Cheese Cat). Usually animal books simply remind me of all the reasons I don't enjoy animal books. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate doesn't quite fall into the category of the former, but it is far removed from the latter.
What impressed me the most about this novel was the characterization, which says a lot considering I'm not easily impressed by animal characters. In the beginning of the story Ivan is a pretty content gorilla. He is content because he lives in the moment, not giving much consideration to the past or the future. He is a little snarky and doesn't give much thought to the world outside of Ivan. Much like the kids who will be reading his story. Once he begins to examine his life and see it through the eyes of young Ruby he begins to question things. The questioning leads to a desire to make a difference which leads to Ivan discovering the best way to use his own personal talents to make that difference. He has to face major changes to his life and environment. This is a coming of age story told from the point of view of a gorilla. Way to go Katerine Applegate! I had no idea that could be done, never mind done so well. The other animal characters are endearing, but not as interesting. Bob, the stray dog who is Ivan's best friend, provides comedy relief. Stella, the older elephant, provides the sadness and motivation for change. Ruby serves her purpose by being adorable and engendering sympathy.
I appreciated how the humans were characterized in the story. There are good humans, there are bad humans, but it is not as simple as good/bad. George is definitely one of the good guys. He cares for the animals. He wants what is best for them, but he also has a family and he needs his job, so doesn't work as quickly or effectively as he should to intervene on the animal's behalf. Mack is definitely one of the bad guys. What he has done to Ivan, Ruby, and Stella is inexcusable. Yet even he is shown as a person with complex feelings and motivations. He is not a mustache twirling villain with a evil laugh. He is human.
This is a book about the ethical and proper treatment of animals. By giving them personality and emotion, Applegate has given animals everywhere a voice. If your child reads this book, expect questions about the treatment of any animal you see in any type of captivity. This book is one that may lead to activism in young ones. Not a bad thing at all, especially when you consider the number of animals that are mistreated by their owners and handlers for the sake of profit. I liked how Applegate, while addressing zoos are not the best place for wild animals (the wild is), acknowledged the important and often life saving role they play. There were a couple of points where I felt I was being lectured, but this may be the adult in me.
The language of the story flows well and is to the point. The book doesn't waste words and is a quick and easy read. It is one of those books that make an ideal read aloud, particularly for younger elementary students.
While I think this book has plenty of child appeal, as well as being excellently written, I'm currently testing that theory. Bit saw the cute baby elephant and surly looking gorilla on the cover and immediately wanted to read it too. (less)