Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick tells the story of a girl experiencing and recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It is one of several books to come out in the past couple years that tell a similar story, but it is my favorite that I've read so far.
Reesie is enjoying the days leading up to her 13th birthday, but as the day draws closer her beloved city of New Orleans seems to be under the growing threat of Hurricane Katrina. Her mother wants them to leave. Her father doesn't believe in leaving the city due to chances of a little high wind. However, he agrees that maybe Reesie should leave her party with her aunt and uncle for Baton Rouge. But then her parents decide to cancel her birthday party. As the storm draws ever closer, Reesie is increasing danger. Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a policeman, are both at work leaving Reesie alone. She goes to a neighbor's house to wait out the storm. But there is no waiting out the water when the levy breaks and the Ninth Ward begins to flood. Fortunately Reesie and Miss Martine have the clear headed help of one their friends and are able to make it to the roof of the house. Rescued and taken to the Superdome, Reesie must try to find her mom and dad. Reuniting with her parents is just the first in a long series of steps to Reesie's finding her way back to a safe secure place.
Reesie is an easy heroine to like. She is so full of life and enthusiasm. She is artistic and creative, designing and making her own clothes. The Boone family is a close one. Her brother spends his hard earned summer money on new shoes for Reesie just before returning to college for the year. Her parents are loving and supportive and work hard for their kids. Reesie's friends and neighbors show a true sense of community too. Patrick does an excellent job of establishing multiple characters and their connections to each other in a short amount of pages while making them all feel real. Miss Martine is a particularly wonderful character who gives Reesei more than just a place to fell safe and not alone during a hurricane. (I want to read a book all about her younger years.)
I enjoyed getting to see the neighborhood through Reesie's eyes. Patrick does an excellent job of bringing all of New Orleans with its unique sights and culture to life while also establishing the neighborhood feel needed to make the story specific to the Ninth Ward work. I liked how the story developed and how it had that heightened rushed feel of an actual disaster. Characters develop relationships quickly and are just as quickly separated. The portrayal is realistic without being emotionally manipulative. There are emotions abounding in Finding Someplace but they feel organic to the story and characters. I also enjoyed how the ending showed the hard road to recovery but was full of hope for the future.
A quick read through of the synopsis makes this sound a lot like last year's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. It also centers around a protagonist surviving Katrina on her birthday. If I were told I had to choose one, I would choose Finding Someplace. The New Orleans Patrick presents feels more real and the characters just jumped off of the page for me. Finding Someplace is also shorter and easier to read, but covers far more. There is an actual real look at the recovery from the disaster, the psychological effects, and stress and strain both cause on a family unit.
Bonus: Unlike all the other Katrina books I've read there is no dog. Patrick is able to tell an emotional tale without throwing potential of animal death in there to strike fear in the hearts of her readers. Thank you, Ms. Patrick.
I read an ARC made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Henry Holt & Co. (BYR). Finding Someplace is available August 4th....more
I added The Wolf Wilder to my TBR as soon as I saw it. I didn't read the synopsis. I just saw it was by Katherine Rundell, whose Rooftopers I enjoyed, and that it had an intriguing cover. Author plus cover is often all it takes for me. I was in for a pleasant surprise when I started reading.
Feo has an odd job. She and her mother rare Wolf Wilders. Their job is to take in the wolves Russian aristocrats have kept as pets but have lost control of and now want to send far away from them. It is terrible luck to kill a wolf so the Wolf Wilders exist to take in the wolves and train them to be wild creatures again. They teach them to run, to hunt, to howl. Feo loves the wolves and her life with them. When General Rakov arrives at her home to tell them they must stop wilding the wolves, Feo's idyllic world shatters. Dodging soldiers and trying to do their work in secret, it isn't long before Feo's mother is captured and there is a large bounty placed on Feo's head. With the wolves and her new friend Ilya, a rogue soldier in Rakov's army, Feo begins a perilous journey to St. Petersburg to rescue her mother. As they journey toward their destination, Feo and Ilya pick up a group of unlikely allies and discover that Rakov's reign of terror in the countryside is far harsher than they had ever imagined. If they are going to rescue and free their friends and family, they will have to face and overcome the worst sort of predator.
Katherine Rundell has a poetic way of writing that pulls you into a story. She is a potent wielder of imagery and uses her settings well. The cold harsh Russian winter and the beauty of the wild in the wolves are fully rendered and make you feel like you are actually there running along with them through the snow. The prose has a storyteller's cadence and brings to mind fairy tales and folklore though there is no magic save that of friendship, love, support, and the bonds that grow from community. The magic of our everyday world. It's a beautifully told novel.
Feo and Ilya seem an ill matched pair at first. A socially awkward girl who spends her days with wolves and a soldier. But they are both misfits. Feo doesn't fit in with humans because she never really learned how. She understands the language of wolves far better than that of people. Ilya never wanted to be a soldier. He wants to be a dancer. They are brought together by the wolves. Ilya is terrified of them but fascinated. When he first meets Feo and witnesses the birth of a pup, he can not bring himself to follow his orders to kill something just starting out in life that is so magnificent. Both Ilya and Feo are incredibly brave but in different ways. Feo is more outwardly bold and naively flaunting of the rules, but Ilya is willing to risk himself for what he loves despite knowing the horrific consequences that will fall on him if he is caught. I loved watching their relationship develop and the eventual group of children they built into a small little army to complete their mission. That is another way in which this story has a fairy tale type feel to it. The small band of children armed with nothing but faith and courage taking on a force of evil and cruelty. It is a story that never gets old, and the form it takes here is enduring and fascinating. It was a book I couldn't put down and walk away from.
Rakov is a fairly standard villain. He is evil. All we know of him are his terrible deeds and his evil insanity. There isn't a lot of depth there. Randell didn't include any historical afterword so I do not know if he is based on a real person or not. There were certainly commanders in the Russian army who behaved the way he does toward the peasants. However the historical haziness is the only part of the book that bothered me. It shows the rumblings of the coming Russian Revolution, but it feels very unreal in many places and there is much that doesn't make sense to me. This is due, in part, to the storyteller's voice and fairy tale feel of the prose. I'm sure the target audience is not going to care. It was a minor distraction for me.
The Wolf Wilder is an excellent novel that tells a tale of friendship, family, community, bravery and love....more
I love murder mysteries and boarding school stories. Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens delivers brilliantly on both.
It is the 1930s and Deepdean School is a place where wealthy young ladies are sent for education and betterment. Hazel Wong is one such young lady. She is from Hong Kong, and her father sent her to England to be schooled because of his own enjoyable school boy day there. Soon after her arrival, Hazel is befriended by Daisy Wells the daughter of an English Lord. These two girls make up their own secret detective agency after Daisy spends a summer immersing herself in Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christy, and Dorothy Sayers. The girls content themselves with minor mysteries until one night Hazel stumbles on the dead body of their Science Mistress, Miss Bell. The body disappears mere minutes later. Now the girls have a murder to investigate with no body, multiple suspects, and few clues. In the days that follow, the girls uncover more secrets about their school and the people who reside their then they ever dreamed, but they also uncover some important truths about themselves.
Hazel and Daisy and their dynamic reminded me quite a lot of Ananka and Kiki in the Kiki Strike series. Daisy is the charismatic trickster who has her fingers in several different pies and agents to do her bidding. She pretends to be a very different person than she actually is in order to manipulate the people around her and get what she wants. Hazel is the controlled, steady, sensible one who relies more on book knowledge. She tells the girls' story as the secretary of the detective society. As the book is told from Hazel's first person perspective, I found myself sympathizing with her more. This is also due to her struggle to fit in and be seen as just one of the girls when she is from such a very different place. Hazel's desire to be just like everyone else and the way she belittles her different looks has a very realistic tone to it particularly for this historic time period. Her allusions to how the teachers view her culture and how inaccurate their view is, also lends a realism to her voice. Hazel is also the more cautious of the two girls and has far more common sense. In contrast Daisy comes across as impatient and obnoxious, often taking advantage of Hazel, belittling her, and not listening to sense when she ought. But she can also admit when she is wrong and humbles herself when it is needed. Together the girls make a great team. Daisy brings Hazel out of her shell, and Hazel forces Daisy to be more sensitive and thoughtful.
The mystery is exactly the sort I like. There are a lot of suspects, but they are limited to the people within the school. I was kept guessing and wondering, just as surprised by the girls at the outcome. The school itself is a great setting. It's a realistic look at the social strata, power plays, and politics of a such a school in the worlds of both the students and the adults.
I adored this first installment, and am looking forward to reading others in the series. The second book is out in the UK. I'm hoping it will follow here quickly.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Murder is Bad Manners is on sale April 21st in the US. It is already available in the UK under the title Murder Most Unladylike....more
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is an engaging and excellent work of historical fiction that perfectly captures the time prior to the beginning of the Civil Rights movements, but that shows its beginnings. It is more than that too. It is a story about community, family, and one girl who dreams by starlight and yearns to make her world bigger and better.
Stella's world is changed one night when her brother wakes her up to show her a scary sight. Across the pond they can see the eerie light of a cross on fire. This can mean only one thing. The Klan is again active in their town of Bumblebee. Fear makes its way across the black community and Stella is questioning all the injustices around her. Why do she and her friends go to a smaller different school? Why do they have less books and older supplies? Why do they all have to live in fear and keep their heads down? But things are changing. The Depression has started and people are longing for a change. Three of the men, including Stella's father, want to vote for that change and go to register. They pass their test on the Constitution and this brings consequences to the community. Stella can still see hope though in the way the people around her along with many of the white residents in her town come together to make things better for those who are hurt. Stella longs to put the things she is in the world around her into words like a true reporter if she could only find the right ones.
Stella is such a great heroine. She is smart, but struggles with writing and needs to work hard. She questions everything. Her enthusiasm to learn as much about life as she can is contagious. Her vulnerability and fear is heartbreaking. She is the sort of character who makes the reader feel all of her triumphs and defeats. The narrative is broken up with examples of Stella's writing, which she is trying desperately to improve, including all her mistakes and corrections. This is a brilliant move because it shows readers what a struggle good writing really is and how much work and thought goes into it. Revision is hard.
The story Stella is telling and living is a gripping one. This is a snapshot of one small community in one part of the country. I liked how Draper showed all the nuances of that community too. There are terrible small people living in her town. There are also generous helpful good-hearted people who know right from wrong.
Stella by Starlight is a wonderful and crucial addition to any library, classroom, and home. Buy it for the young readers in your life. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly appealed to me for so many different reasons. I am always looking for good, MG school stories, and this is one about an immigration experience as well. It's a good one too with strong characters, excellent themes, and a realism about middle school that made me slightly sick to my stomach.
Analyn, known by her nickname, Apple, moved to the US from the Philippines when she was only four years old. In the years since she has learned a disdain for herself and her mother. She is embarrassed by the food her mother cooks and how she saves every penny. She longs to be more like her American classmates. It is not easy being the only Filipino in her small town Louisiana school. Things get worse when Apple's social climbing friends want to have boyfriends, and it is revealed that Apple has made the school's "Dog Log". Apple hates herself more and more as school becomes even less bearable. Things at home are not much better. All Apple wants to do is learn to play guitar, and her mother won't allow her. Through some new friends, a lot of awful mistakes, and some hard lessons Apple begins to look beyond the small mindset of middle school social dynamics and works hard to make her future dreams a reality.
This book is seriously well done. So well done it actually hurts to read it. Middle school is the worst. I actually had knots in my stomach as I read about Apple's life. The often racist teasing. The yearning to fit in and be the same. The realization that her friends were not behind her. It's a wretched time for anyone and Apple's story conveys that so well. All MG readers will understand Apple on some level. In addition to the typical middle school story we also have Apple's feelings on being an immigrant child. Her embarrassment and resentment of her mother is conveyed so well. This is something else that readers will be able to identify with. What middle schooler isn't embarrassed and resentful of their family? But through Apple's eyes and story, readers will also learn that everyone has a story. The majority of the supporting characters are just as well drawn as Apple and each has a perfect place and moment in her story.
Blackbird Fly is a book about learning who you are and embracing it. I like that it doesn't make everything perfect though. There is one scene that is a bit over the top as far as breakthrough moments go, but it fits so well into where it is in the story and everything else around it is so real, I'm okay with that. And there is no indication that life is sunshine and roses after that. I did feel the end wrapped up a little quickly, but I also like that the books is as short as it is.
I enjoyed reading Blackbird Fly and recommend it to anyone who loves good MG school stories. I will certainly be putting a copy of it in the hands of my daughter.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Blackbird Fly goes on sale on March 24th. ...more
Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again took the kidlit world by storm a couple years ago, garnering both the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor. Anticipation for her second book, coming out this month, is high. In my opinion, Listen, Slowly is even better than Lai's first book.
Mai has plans for her summer. Plans that involve hanging out at the beach with her best friend, Montana, and Him-the boy she's had a crush on since he talked about a love poem in English class. Her plans most definitely do not involve accompanying her grandmother on a trip to Vietnam to discover information about her long missing grandfather. But try telling that to her do-gooder parents. Her father will be spending his summer in Vietnam doctoring needy children and can't be there to help Bà. Her mother is trying an important case and can't go to Vietnam at all. As the youngest cousin with no pressing academic plans, Mai is selected to go and make sure Bà is okay and has all she needs. Mai's goal is to get this excursion over with and fly home as soon as possible. As the days in Vietnam pass she is assaulted by mosquitos, heat, a rash of pimples, an attack of diarrhea from swallowing pond water, and not completely understanding the people around her all the time. But she also makes a new friend, learns more about her Bà and Ông, the war that tore her family apart, and the country whose rich history, culture and language runs through her California girl veins.
The rich setting and distinctive voice were my favorite aspects of Inside Out & Back Again. Lai's talent for both shine even brighter in Listen, Slowly. Mai's voice is perfect middle schooler. She is sassy, sarcastic, pouty, self-centered, sneaky, and argumentative. She is also kind, brave, loyal, and a little scared of the future and her place in it. She is a bit wrapped up in her own privilege too. Her parents want her to learn to give and be appreciative. She rolls her eyes a lot. I loved her to pieces. Upon reaching Vietnam, she learns a lot about family, friendship, and loyalty, but doesn't morph into a different person. She's still a snarky, sneaky, slightly awkward middle schooler. In Vietnam she makes a friend, one of her many cousins, named Út. Út loves frogs and being the bane of her mother's existence. The girls don't hit it off, but through many shared adventures and schemes become close friends.
The story is quiet and full of lush descriptions of Vietnam. Even though the plot is not full of heart-stopping actions and events, it is rich with the smaller events of life. Lai mostly manages to maintain a quick pace with these smaller events, and there is so much humor in the book. I laughed out loud several times.
The setting is incredibly well done. It is quite easy to feel completely immersed in the country of Vietnam. Lai's descriptive prose with told through the snarky tone of Mai's voice convey a beautiful country. The reader sees the large clogged cities with their noise and pollution and the slower life of the smaller villages. Lai manages to keep a light tone when discussing politics and the realities of a developing country, but still conveyes the scope and breadth of the issues. Her ability to bring things to a level middle graders can understand and appreciate is impressive. Part of what makes it so good, is that she doesn't condescend to her readers. The book is full of Vietnamese, some of it translated, some not. Context works well enough so the reader knows what is going on, and it just adds richness and authenticity to the setting. One of my favorites scenes is when Mai's translator is trying to teach her about how all the different accent marks and pronunciations change the meaning of the word Ba and Mai's comparing the noises to sheep: a frightened sheep, a serious sheep, a surprised sheep, a sheep falling over, and "I get to say 'whatever' while sounding like a constipated sheep." It's funny and conveys the complexities of the language perfectly.
Going with Mai and her grandmother on their journeys of discovery and closure is a privilege every reader will enjoy. I laughed and cried with them, and felt like I was a part of their family when I finished.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Listen, Slowly goes on sale February 17....more
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. ...more
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. ...more
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 dEmotionally 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. ...more
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 stThis 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. ...more
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 sThis 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. ...more
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 brOriginally 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. ...more
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 othOn 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. ...more
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? ItOriginally 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. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
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....more
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.)...more