Hour of the bees is a must buy for several reasons. Of course the first is because it is a really good story. The second is because it does some veryHour of the bees is a must buy for several reasons. Of course the first is because it is a really good story. The second is because it does some very interesting literary things, weaving magical realism into an ordinary twelve year old girls life in a way that feels organic. It will be a great book for book groups and discussions. The third is because the family is Hispanic and of all the lacks in children's publishing the most egregious is the lack of Hispanic characters in stories written for 2nd through 5th graders. What holds me back from five stars is some difficulty I had with the several dramatic action sequences; I could not picture or believe in the physical sequence of events. I don't want to give any plot points away so will focus on an incident early in the book involving a rattlesnake. The way the dad handles the snake is unlike anything I've ever seen and goes directly against everything my father, whose dealt with many rattlers in his life, told me to do. Of course this wil not be an issue for most kids, but god forbid they encounter a poisonous snake and grab it by the tail, try to coil it up, or put it in an unsecured pillowcase and expect it to stay there. The real point is that it these unbelievable action sequences play too convenient and so unbalance the story. It seems especially important to me that the realistic sequences be unimpeachable so as to make the magical elements all the more credible. Despite those minor flaws, this is an enchanting and moving coming of age story that will resonate with all kids and beloved by many. And to that point I want to especially call out something that shocked me in the tepid SLJ review. Hour of the Bees was recommended for kids who liked two other middle grade books with Hispanic main characters. This is NOT just a great book for people who want Hispanic characters, it is a great book for EVERY kid....more
A very wonderful fictionalized account of a 16 year old Hispanic girl who attempts suicide and her recovery among a group of similarly challenged teenA very wonderful fictionalized account of a 16 year old Hispanic girl who attempts suicide and her recovery among a group of similarly challenged teens. Vicky knows she is lucky and that there are worse things than having a successful dad who has high expectations and a perfect older sister at Harvard, but that doesn't stop the pain she feels. Warm, clever and profound: I admire this book for addressing head-on the topic of depression. As someone who suffered briefly from depression in my teens, and watched two of my three children experience it more extensively while teenagers, I appreciate such a helpful depiction that demystifies the disease. (Several support organizations are listed at the end.) Aside from its social value the book is also a very good story, full of drama, friendship and engaging characters. It gets four stars instead of five for occasional didacticism and for having the narrator tell us what other characters think, (especially the dad) instead of showing us their actions and letting us make up our own minds....more
Nellie Bly is a fascinating character. One of the first, and arguably the most popular, female reporters, she went undercover in an asylum, went arounNellie Bly is a fascinating character. One of the first, and arguably the most popular, female reporters, she went undercover in an asylum, went around the world alone in less than 80 days and crusaded, sporadically, on behalf of the downtrodden. I thought the first half of the book was topnotch, but it seemed to lose steam as it drew towards the end....more
What a fantastic book, with a fantastic opening line: "The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie." Annabelle's comfortable and warm life, livingWhat a fantastic book, with a fantastic opening line: "The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie." Annabelle's comfortable and warm life, living on a farm with her two younger brothers, parents, aunt and grandparents, is changed by an unremarkable fact: a granddaughter from the city, Betty, coming to live with her grandparents. But Betty isn't like anyone Annabelle knows. Betty is beyond mean, beyond a bully; Betty is cruel and cold and calculating.
Wolk does a fantastic job. Annabelle's voice is clear and believable. Her character appealing enough to counter act the claustrophobic dread generated by Betty. The reader is shown rather than told and there are myriad rewards for attentive readers. This is a perfect book for a book group, it packs plenty of punch and there is a lot to discuss....more
Four and a half stars. Two Malian boys, Amadou 11 and Seydou 6, look for paid work during a time of famine and find themselves enslaved on a cocoa plaFour and a half stars. Two Malian boys, Amadou 11 and Seydou 6, look for paid work during a time of famine and find themselves enslaved on a cocoa plantation. Two years and many beatings later their only concern is survival when a 13 year-old girl Kadija is delivered to the bosses and refuses to do anything but fight to escape. Her determination set in motion a series of events that lead the three to a daring attempt at escape.
Sullivan has written a gripping, character driven story that kept me reading through the night. While clearly an issue book the first two-thirds of the story felt entirely unforced. What kept this from five stars was the final bit, which strayed into more heavy-handed telling and not showing. Regardless the story is excellent and will be much in demand both for classroom reading and pleasure reading. Pair with the nonfiction Chocolate by Kay Frydenbourg....more
What a great, creepy Victorian mystery. Hardinge ramps up the intensity with each chapter as Faith's desperate efforts to gain her father's attentionWhat a great, creepy Victorian mystery. Hardinge ramps up the intensity with each chapter as Faith's desperate efforts to gain her father's attention shift to even more desperate attempts to aid and protect him. Supernatural elements are used sparingly and the mystery behind her father's erratic behavior and their family's exile and disgrace evolves compellingly. There is a strong current of feminism and a lot of ancillary information about Victorian practices and the upheaval Darwin's theory of me loutish caused....more
Another tricky book that is beautifully, if uncomfortably, written. Samuel is 13 and his younger brother Joshua is around six. African-American freeboAnother tricky book that is beautifully, if uncomfortably, written. Samuel is 13 and his younger brother Joshua is around six. African-American freeborn orphans, they are raised by a priest. Samuel is studious, devout and conscientious to a fault; his brother is none of those things. The plot is driven by Samuel's desire to protect his brother, one more time, from the consequences of misbehavior.
Set during the Civil War, much of the action takes place in the South among slaves and slave holders. Of course there is a lot to make readers uncomfortable. I admire Walters' choices and his skill as an author. I trust that he did a lot of research and I recognize this is a work of fiction. His story is likely to be controversial.
Some readers have said they can't imagine a kid reading this. I can and have several I plan on pointing it out to. I think many kids of all races wonder what it was like to be present in a slaveholding society. This books puts us there and opens the conversation, which I think is very valuable.
I found the character of Samuel compelling and his religious devotion and desire to be good, both frustrating and interesting. The issue of religion is another third-rail I can imagine polarizing adult readers and that I think kids will relish an opportunity to think about.
Some readers have complained that Samuel, who narrates the story, doesn't use race to describe people. Sometimes that is the case and sometimes it results in a shift in perception when ancillary evidence alters one's understanding. Again this narrative nonconformity is more likely to bother adults than kids. (One point near the end of the book reminded me of my favorite scene in the Manchurian Candidate where the African American soldier imagines the same scene we've seen white soldiers imagine- except of course all the characters in his head are black- duh.) I respect the fact that Walters has written Samuel with the uncomfortably non p.c. perceptions he was likely to have. I know I cringed when white, blond characters were described as looking angelic.
There is a piece of me that want's to quibble and protest: some characters seem too good, there wasn't as much brutality and sexual violence as most slaves likely suffered, there are a couple 'white savior' characters. On the other hand: we are told at the outset that the plantation Samuel lands at is better than most, the adult male master is away (convenient-but so is orphan), sexual violence is part of the narrative- just off-scene, the book is narrated by a remarkably innocent and religious 13 year-old-so we know and see what he knows and sees, then and now there are people, who for their own self-serving reasons, want to be saviors-the author makes it clear what the motivations are and those characters don't steal the agency from Samuel.
I can't imagine a book set largely in a slave compound that wouldn't set teeth on edge and make most readers want to argue. What I don't want us to do is argue such books out of existence. Most important to me: I can believe in Samuel as a character, he is fully human, he grows and changes; he does not exist as a didactic mouthpiece for a 21st century adult understanding. His story is compelling and I can imagine kids who would want to read about it and who would be thoughtful about the issues the story raises. ...more
If you want well-written realistic fiction, with charming flawed characters, who mostly behave like real teenagers, but with some extra wit, and a litIf you want well-written realistic fiction, with charming flawed characters, who mostly behave like real teenagers, but with some extra wit, and a little romance, and a slight edge, this is the book for you. A great book for John Green fans but with more rounded, diverse and less annoying female characters....more
I love this series. The plots are wacky and improbable but the dialog and relationships are clever and true. Allison clearly likes and respects kids aI love this series. The plots are wacky and improbable but the dialog and relationships are clever and true. Allison clearly likes and respects kids and that comes through....more
**spoiler alert** This is an odd one, mostly in a good way. A potent mix of superstition and folksiness. Not sure what to make of all the talk of the**spoiler alert** This is an odd one, mostly in a good way. A potent mix of superstition and folksiness. Not sure what to make of all the talk of the devil, & not sure how the (spoiler) dead dad managed to transfer his homicidal hand to his child- why would the murdering hand always be the left? But the evocation of an African-American community is welcome and the story has kid appeal. (Zombies!)...more
I admire the story and the courage. I appreciate the realism, but the writing was flat and there were many moments where I felt transitions were roughI admire the story and the courage. I appreciate the realism, but the writing was flat and there were many moments where I felt transitions were rough and left me scratching my head. That said I do value how honest the book was and it does make a thoughtful case for how a handful of individuals, even doing really dumb stuff, can have an impact and yet can personally never quite recover from the experiences of war....more
41/2 stars. Really excellent complex fantasy full of thievery, adventure and teamwork. With its blend of action, intrigue and romance this is the perf41/2 stars. Really excellent complex fantasy full of thievery, adventure and teamwork. With its blend of action, intrigue and romance this is the perfect thing to give to readers who love the Cinder series....more