When seventh grader Rachel's older brother is expelled from boarding school and comes home, Rachel is forced to confront the ways in which her family...moreWhen seventh grader Rachel's older brother is expelled from boarding school and comes home, Rachel is forced to confront the ways in which her family and her life are not as "perfect" as she thought--and though she struggles at first, she eventually starts to realize that unexpected twists and messy imperfections help to make life meaningful and interesting.(less)
One sentence review: A sense of menace pervades this finely composed and beautifully paced Victorian ghost story from the very first pages, when well-...moreOne sentence review: A sense of menace pervades this finely composed and beautifully paced Victorian ghost story from the very first pages, when well-drawn siblings Molly and Kip discover that their new employer's decrepit home lies in the midst of the fear-inducing "sourwoods," through a satisfying denouement in which Auxier raises provocative questions about our deepest human wishes and asserts the power of stories in our lives even as he grants his characters the opportunity to show true courage and to gain hard-earned insights into their own strengths and frailties.(less)
OK, so the descriptions of how combines work and how the wheat is harvested were sometimes a little overdone, but that is a small complaint. I fell in...moreOK, so the descriptions of how combines work and how the wheat is harvested were sometimes a little overdone, but that is a small complaint. I fell in love with these characters, especially Summer and Jiichan, and I am amazed at how lightly Kadohata managed to weave in some very mature themes. At first I wondered why Kadohata focused so much on Summer's thoughts about "A Separate Peace," but when I went back and re-read the first few chapters I was blown away by the parallel Kadohata subtly makes between Gene's relationship with Finny after he nearly kills his friend, and Summer's relationship with mosquitoes after they nearly kill her. Yet, at the same time, you could totally ignore that writerly parallel and just appreciate the insight into Summer's brain that you get as she ponders Gene's actions and what they can teach her about the coexistence of good and evil in all of us and the external circumstances (the "luck") that can cause someone's potential good or evil to manifest itself in an action. Kadohata hit the luck theme pretty hard at the beginning and the end of the book, which made for a nicely wrapped-up and tidy ending, but it got a little lost in the middle so the ending didn't quite feel as earned as it could have been. However, I did thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in this world and I am very happy that Kadohata won the National Book Award. I hope she gets some Newbery love as well!(less)
Twelve-year-old Catherine is full of rules for her autistic brother David to follow – rules about how to eat, how to inte...moreA book talk from grad school:
Twelve-year-old Catherine is full of rules for her autistic brother David to follow – rules about how to eat, how to interact politely in social situations, and how to keep your clothes on even when you have spilled something on them. She has been embarrassed by David too many times before, and now that a new girl, Kristi, is moving in next door, Catherine wants to make sure that David won’t ruin the perfect friendship she has been imagining. She is not sure how Kristi will react to David when she herself is so torn between love for him and frustration with him. “Sometimes I wish someone would invent a pill so David’d wake up one morning without autism, like someone waking from a long coma, and he’d say, ‘Jeez, Catherine, where have I been?’ And he’d be a regular brother… a brother who’d give back as much as he took, who I could joke with, even fight with. Someone I could yell at and he’d yell back, and we’d keep going and going until we’d both yelled ourselves out. But there’s no pill, and our quarrels fray instead of knot, always ending in him crying and me sorry for hurting him over something he can’t help” (p. 8). Catherine soon finds that Kristi may not be exactly the kind of friend she was hoping for – but perhaps Jason, the paraplegic boy she meets at David’s speech therapy clinic, is. (less)
Horvath’s wonder at the beauty and richness of everyday life, and her awareness of its potential to blossom into unexpected...moreA review from grad school:
Horvath’s wonder at the beauty and richness of everyday life, and her awareness of its potential to blossom into unexpected adventures, infuses each moment of her latest book, the fizzy and incandescent story of Jane Fielding’s twelfth summer. Jane lives in a coastal Massachusetts town with her mother, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, and her three young siblings. She has always loved their home by the sea and their summer rituals of gathering berries and making sand castles. However, this summer, Jane cannot find contentment in her usual pursuits. She is ready for a change, feeling like “a candle on a cake ready to be lit.” Jane prays for one hundred adventures, and begins to stumble upon them with the help of the quirky characters who populate her town—eccentrics like Nellie Phipps, a preacher who sends Jane up in a stolen hot air balloon, and Mrs. Parks, who insists on being driven to California in the middle of the night. Jane’s adventures become more personal when several possible fathers appear on her doorstep and she realizes the mistakenness of what she has always believed about her mother: “That she is enough in herself alone to have made us. That she has dreamt us into being.” Horvath has given Jane such a forthright and genuine voice that readers experience right along with her the mingled heartache and elation of taking the first few steps out of childhood—realizing that the adults around you are not always good role models and that there are some adventures you would rather not share with your family. Horvath’s language is radiant, and her expansive view of the world’s possibilities allows her to easily play the edge between the fantastical and the familiar, blending realistic and almost-magical elements into this engaging, surprising, and altogether marvelous tale.(less)
Very cute early-ish chapter book, perfect for second grade. Our narrator, Alex, is a scientific genius who has figured out how to make a spaceship out...moreVery cute early-ish chapter book, perfect for second grade. Our narrator, Alex, is a scientific genius who has figured out how to make a spaceship out of cardboard boxes, all to get away from his annoying younger brother Jonathan. Alex's voice is authentic and age-appropriate (I know Jonathan is 6, but unclear on how much older Alex is), and his perspective on Jonathan and his parents is always deadpan and frequently hilarious. Most of the narrative is spent with Alex and Jonathan as the younger brother tries to join in his older sibling's imaginative play. Alex slowly starts to realize that Jonathan has a little bit of genius in him as well, and that there are some good reasons not to go gallivanting off to another galaxy (chiefly, the lovely Zoe Breen). I loved the off-the-cuff references to superstring and quantum theory -- Alex really knows his scientific stuff! But there is no knowledge of science required to enjoy this lighthearted look at sibling conflict and the power of children's imaginations. The illustrations interspersed throughout are fun and seem designed to appeal to "Wimpy Kid" aficionados.(less)
**spoiler alert** I wanted to like this more than I did, but I did not find the setting, the characters, or the central mystery as compelling as I did...more**spoiler alert** I wanted to like this more than I did, but I did not find the setting, the characters, or the central mystery as compelling as I did with "Shakespeare's Secret." The characters were broadly drawn; the first chapter tells us that the oldest brother Simon is a bossy know-it-all, the middle brother Henry is a quiet reader, and the youngest brother Jack is a willful kid with a temper, and the rest of the book relies on those initial characterizations without giving us any further development.
Once the first chapter has hastily set up the premise -- the Barker brothers have just moved to Superstition, Arizona, and adults' repeated warnings to stay away from Superstition Mountain have just made them more curious about it -- the pacing moves along briskly. The boys head up the mountain twice -- once right at the beginning, in pursuit of their runaway cat, and once near the end, to try to recover three skulls that they found on their first visit. In between, they make a new friend, Delilah, who helps them to investigate the history of the mountain with trips to the library (as a librarian myself, I did enjoy the depiction of the creepy Superstition librarian) and to a local geologist.
There was a good balance of resolving one mystery/adventure while leaving overarching questions to be explored in the trilogy's other books. The author's acknowledgments state that she was hoping to create "Twin Peaks for kids," and in this attempt I did not find the book successful. An intriguing concept, but the atmosphere never got too creepy or quirky.
I must admit, I might be assessing this book a little more harshly than I otherwise would, because I just read "Well Witched," in which Hardinge so masterfully crafted true-to-life characters and a pervading sense of eerieness. An interesting question for me is which of the two books a kid would prefer -- as an adult reader, I find that "Well Witched" is far superior, but is that based on adult criteria of style and craftsmanship that would not necessarily translate to a kid perspective?
**SPOILER ALERT** Since I found some of the clues scattered throughout to be rather obvious, I would just like to predict for the record that the following will happen in the two sequels: a) Hank found the Lost Dutchman's Mine ; b) Hank's box of coins with the "surprisingly shallow trough" (167) will prove to have a secret compartment; c) Officer Myers is in search of the Lost Dutchman's Mine himself and is perhaps responsible for the gunshot heard by Henry and Delilah.(less)
**spoiler alert** I just read this for the first time and I don't think it has aged particularly well. The first chapters had such promise, with a cru...more**spoiler alert** I just read this for the first time and I don't think it has aged particularly well. The first chapters had such promise, with a crumbling old house I would have loved to live in as a kid, two adventurous protagonists with fun quirks, and an intriguing mystery for them to solve. However, as Eddy and Eleanor began to dive into their Transcendentalist dreams, the book began to lose me. I appreciate the attempt to teach readers about Transcendentalism in such an imaginative way, but it came off as moralistic and ham-handed. I didn't think the dream/fantasy sequences were well-integrated with the daily lives of Eddy and Eleanor, and I was frustrated that the "rules" for the fantasy realm were unclear to me; each dream was so different than the last. I wanted to know how Krishna had the power to create the dreams; it seemed like he was just plugged into this "mysterious man of the Orient" stereotype. His characterization was part of an overall Western- and Christian-leaning bias in the book. Perhaps it is unfair of me to take contemporary mores and foist them onto a 50-year-old book, but the dream of a parade of truth seekers who prominently included Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, followed by Jesus, was a little much for me to take. The "happily-ever-after" ending didn't feel earned, and I was annoyed that character believability seemed to take a backseat to the working out of the plot. Aunt Lily was entirely too accepting of the initial disappearance of her siblings, and of the flimsiness of the story they concocted to explain their disappearance after their return. Uncle Freddy's madness and return to sanity were just too convenient. I can see how I might have enjoyed this more as a kid, but as an adult reader trying it for the first time, it felt dated and didactic.(less)
Fourth grader Newt Newman has always felt like a nobody in comparison to his older brother Chris, a football hero in their small town. When Chris is i...moreFourth grader Newt Newman has always felt like a nobody in comparison to his older brother Chris, a football hero in their small town. When Chris is injured in a game, he ends up in a coma and the Newman parents treat their younger son with even more than their usual obliviousness. Newt’s two best friends try to take his mind off his brother’s plight by putting together a makeshift superhero get-up for Halloween trick-or-treating; Newt turns into “Captain Nobody” for the night, but feels so much more in-control and courageous in his costume that he decides to continue wearing it. Pitchford’s first-person narration does not reveal enough of Newt’s emotions to make this choice credible, and plausibility is stretched further as coincidences pile up to make Captain Nobody into a real-life robbery-thwarting and life-saving hero. The fact that Newt never speaks directly to his parents about his feelings and fears and that he actually has to put himself in danger before they pay him any attention does not send a positive message. Underdeveloped characters, pedestrian prose, and a strained plot with a too-tidy ending make this an additional purchase for most libraries.(less)