The Teaser: Marlee is nearly 13 years old and that means it is high time for her to get over her fear of... well, fear of almost everything, actually....moreThe Teaser: Marlee is nearly 13 years old and that means it is high time for her to get over her fear of... well, fear of almost everything, actually. A quiet girl, who greatly prefers math and numbers to words and people, Marlee lives her life categorizing people as what type of drink they'd be and following around the same Queen Bee bossy and popular girls that she's known forever. When the school year starts and Marlee meets outgoing new girl Liz (warm milk with a dash of cinnamon), she thinks things might have changed. With Liz's help, Marlee begins to overcome her fear of speaking to other people and learns what it's like to have a real friend who shares her interests for the first time. But when Liz suddenly withdraws from school and disappears without a word, Marlee is hurt and confused. The rumor that Liz is actually a African American girl who has been passing as white doesn't do anything to make Marlee feel any better. Caught between her integrationist father and don't-rock-the-boat mother, in an ugly year where all of Little Rock's public high schools stayed closed to prevent integration and racial tensions are at an all time high, all Marlee knows is that finding and keeping her first friend is worth risking the wrath of the entire city. What follows is a story of first crushes, family relationships, finding a voice and becoming brave in ways you never knew the word brave meant. A story about two girls who know that they need each other and are willing to risk just about anything to stay friends.
What Stands Out: Oh man, Marlee, I feel you. It is hard to have a crush on that popular boy and then realize that maybe he's not all that after all. It is hard to finally have someone that you can confide in, only to have them yanked away without any warning. And it is hard when even your home feels like a battleground and you don't know where you fit anymore. Nothing on Marlee's journey, from when we first meet a terrified 12 year old chickening out on a high dive to the end where she's standing up to Ku Klux Klan members, feels forced or rushed or anything but a completely natural progression. Levine has a clear voice and skillfully navigates between the real world history that informs the narrative and Marlee's own story. And can we get a what-what for Liz and Betty Jean, the two main African-American characters, who had a lot more to fear than Marlee but who didn't believe in backing down in the face of opposition either.
What Didn't Work: Nope, not a thing. I started reading this book on my lunch break and got so sucked up into the world of 1958 Little Rock that I was 10 minutes late getting back to work. I finished it later that night and immediately sent a friend an e-mail that said "this. book. is. so. so. good."
Anything Extra Special?: Oh heck yes.
Arkansas I went to college in the great state of Arkansas and I flipping loved it there. Arkansas gets a bad rap a lot of the time but it is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. While in school I worked at a garden adjacent to Dunbar Junior High, the all black junior high that Curtis goes to in the book. I have friends who went to Central High School, the school that the famed Little Rock Nine integrated in 1957. They can point out rooms where they had classes in the pictures in history books. Reading call backs to all these places that I know made me feel right at home and like I had special insider knowledge- I know exactly how bad it must have felt to get sent to Pine Bluff, a town where I once waited 3 hours for a pizza to come out at the Pizza Hut.
History I think most people know the story of the Little Rock Nine, the kids who integrated Central High School. What not a lot of people know about, and I certainly didn't until reading this book, was what happened the year afterwards. While the story in Lions of Little Rock is very much fictional, it's set in the real Little Rock. The one where high schools stayed shut for an entire school year in an attempt to re-segregate the schools. The civil rights and pro-segregation groups featured in this story actually existed, as did the McCarthy-like blacklisting of public school teachers. I appreciated the insider view of how things like a school board election would actually work and I'm that dork who completely ate up the Author's Note at the end where Levine details exactly what was real and gives suggested books for further reading.(less)
The Teaser: In this picture book biography of Josephine Baker, little Miss Josephine sure was an odd looking child. To stop her from being teased, her...moreThe Teaser: In this picture book biography of Josephine Baker, little Miss Josephine sure was an odd looking child. To stop her from being teased, her aunt suggested that she entertain the other kids. And so Josephine learned to dance, every dance known to mankind and some she made up by herself. Eventually, and after some hard, hard times, she used her dancing skills to tour the country with vaudeville acts and even ended up in Paris, France where the people went crazy for Josephine and her act.
What Stood Out: I absolutely loved this picture book bio; Jonah Winter is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors when I need interesting non-fiction picture books. He tells the story of Josephine Baker in the rhythm and rhyme of a jazz song that flows smoothly through her childhood, early life and successes in France. It doesn't shy away from the harder facts of Josephine's life like the St. Louis Race Riots, performing in black face, or her stint of homelessness in New York.
What Didn't Work: Because of the content, and the extra explaining or context that might need to be given for concepts such as the race riots and black face, it's a little hard to pinpoint to right audience for this book. While it serves as a great introduction to Josephine Baker, school projects would need a more fleshed out biography, and (in addition to the some of the subject matter) it's a little long for a read-aloud for younger kids.
Anything Extra Special?: I did use Jazz Age Josephine very successfully as a read-aloud for a 4th grade class when I went to do outreach. They kinda glazed over the racial undertones in the story and glommed onto the fact that Josephine had a pet cheetah that she walked on a leash down the streets of Paris. Special props also go to Majorie Priceman's whimsical illustrations that perfectly capture the mood of a an upbeat jazz song and then trajectory of Josephine's life.
The Deal: Tom Mackee's Uncle Joe died in the London subway bombings and it's only now, years after the fact, that his family is beginning to crawl out...moreThe Deal: Tom Mackee's Uncle Joe died in the London subway bombings and it's only now, years after the fact, that his family is beginning to crawl out of their individual grief holes and figure out what the tragedy means to them as a family and to the friends they left behind. For Tom it means coming to terms with breaking the heart of the only girl he's ever loved and trying to make amends with his close friends who he shut out in the aftermath. For his Aunt Georgie, it means finding herself 42, pregnant, and ashamed to be in love with her baby's father. The book alternates between Tom and Georgie's viewpoint as we meet the entire Finch-Mackee family and watch them try to rebuild their family.
What Worked: I can't say everything, can I? Fine. Marchetta writes about grief better than anyone I've ever read. And there is a lot of grief in this book. Georgie's story is rich and deeply realized, giving respect to a character who wouldn't necessarily get respect in another YA novel. She is 40 after all. I love the way Marchetta ties history, both personal and communal, into the story. Every single break through is earned.
What Didn't Work: It's not so much a What Didn't Work as an I Want More, but I would have really liked to know more about Georgie, Dom and Joe's childhood and Georgie's first relationship with Sam.
Anything Extra Special?: YES. So this book follows the same characters as Saving Francesca aka the book that made me a Melina Marchetta fan girl. I missed Jimmy and Siobhan, but I loved catching up with Francesca, Justine, the psycho Tara Finke and of course, Tom. There are also mini appearances by characters from Marchetta's Printz award book Jellicoe Road. Blink and you'll miss them, pick up on it and you'll start praying for a crossover novel. (less)
The Deal: Puck lives on the island of Thisby with her two brothers. Their parents were killed about a year ago by the mysterious and deadly water horse...moreThe Deal: Puck lives on the island of Thisby with her two brothers. Their parents were killed about a year ago by the mysterious and deadly water horses who rise from the sea every November and since then it's been the three Connolly siblings against the world. But now her oldest brother is talking about leaving the island for good and the only way Puck can think to stall him is to announce her intent to ride in the Scorpio Races.
The Scorpio Races are a tradition on Thisby as far back as anyone can remember, and lately an economy-saving tourist attraction. Water horses are more dangerous and harder to control than regular horses, but they're so much faster. Each year the men of Thisby risk their lives to prove their dominance over the beasts and be the first over the finish line.
Sean watched his father die in the races when he was only ten years old. Now, riding the horse his father was killed on, Sean has won the races 4 times and is heavily favored to do it again. Sean doesn't care much for the races though, he just wants a way to buy Corr, his water horse and only friend, from the island's richest man. Together they'll move to his father's house and never be indentured to any master ever again.
What Worked: All of it. No, seriously. If I truly had to pick a best, most-working part though, it would be the world of Thisby that Stiefvater built. The island atmosphere of tradition and insider vs. outsider gives us some of the creepiest, most suspenseful scenes I've ever read. Carnival scenes and food descriptions juxtaposed against blood letting rituals and sinister pubs gave Thisby extra dimensions and let me get an intimate look at a small community from my couch.
What Didn't Work: Okay, so the villain was a little flat. BUT I AM SO TOTALLY OKAY WITH THAT.
Anything Extra Special?: Like I mentioned above, the tension between Puck and Sean as their relationship grows from distrust and suspicion to mutual respect and then soft, butterfly feelings is exquisite. I don't throw around the Anne of Green Gables title lightly; that slow burn as Anne begins to realize how Gilbert feels for her and how she feels about him can send me into squees by just thinking about it. Puck and Sean are of the same variety and the few kisses they do get to share are made all the more satisfying by how much time they spent working up to them.
Would I Read It Again?: Yes. It's a long linger, so I'll give it time to settle, but this is definitely something that will make its way back to my bedside table.(less)
I don't know how to start this review, there are so many things I want to say about Graffiti Moon. I guess I'll start with this: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Th...moreI don't know how to start this review, there are so many things I want to say about Graffiti Moon. I guess I'll start with this: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
The Deal: Lucy and Ed had one horrible date, years ago. He may or may not have grabbed her ass, she may or may not have broken his nose, they may or may not have ever spoken again. There is absolutely no way, ever, that she would agree to hang out with him ever again. Except maybe if her best friend has a crush on his best friend and if the boys promise that they know, and can find, the elusive graffiti artist Shadow that Lucy is obsessed with. Luckily for us, both of those things are true and we get to follow along as Ed leads Lucy through Shadow's favorite spots and they figure out together why their fateful date went so wrong and what has happened to each of them in the in-between time.
What Worked: This is easily the least realistic, realistic novel I've ever read and it's such a tribute to Cath Crowley that I didn't figure that out until I sat down to write about the book. It's that good, the world-building just sweeps you in and you forget to question the likelyhood of a high school girl wrangling a glass-blowing apprenticeship or a high school dropout name dropping Mark Rothko. I also loved that I wasn't quite sure who Ed would end up with by the end of the book. Of course everything in me that's ever read YA before told me he'd end up with Lucy, but the case for his recently ex-girlfriend is pretty strong too and I spent a good chunk of the book in actual suspense over his eventual choice.
What Didn't Work: Even with all the awesome world-building and suspension of disbelief, Crowley's descriptions of Shadow's work took me right out of the story. She set him up as a straight painter, an artist who makes "pieces" using only spray paint and walls. The pieces she describes though are very clearly the type of thing that would normally be done as wheat pastes or stencils; complicated and detailed pieces that are mostly constructed off-site and then applied to the wall in question.
Anything Extra Special?: I'm so glad you asked. As mentioned above, anything dealing with graffiti is probably going to get a thumbs up from me.
But I am also an Australiaphile (which is apparently a real thing) and this book's setting as well as all the talk about Australia's educational system were super interesting to me.
The other really truly awesome thing about this book is what I call the "Hocus Pocus Effect." Y'all remember the movie Hocus Pocus right? I can wait if you need to go out and re watch it really quickly. Anyway, all the action in Hocus Pocus takes place in one day, and mainly over the course of one night. This time limit, artificial or not, serves to ramp up the drama with each little action taking on greater significance because it limits other possible decisions. Graffiti Moon takes place all in one night, from the end of the last day of school through the very beginning of dawn the next morning. So much happens in this short little time, and you're not sure what will happen after the book is closed, but this one chapter in the characters' lives is so perfect and neatly wrapped up that it almost doesn't matter. (less)