I liked that the white girl at the center of this story set in 1961 was realistically portrayed as a child who had inherited racist views from her famI liked that the white girl at the center of this story set in 1961 was realistically portrayed as a child who had inherited racist views from her family. It seems like in children's historical fiction, young white American characters are somehow untainted by the culture of white supremacy that surrounds them. This story really examines how you can think you are a good person from a nice family (as Billie does) but be completely blind to what is really going on. Billie slowly wakes up to the injustice that has always surrounded her. I think this is (sadly) relevant to many young white Americans today. We might think everything is hunky-dory, but that's because we live in a bubble of privilege.
So I liked this book a lot. At the same time, I recognize that there are already too many books that center white voices in American history. So while I think this is a good book and that is has the potential to speak to young white readers where they are, it is important to boost books (especially those by African American authors) that center people of color. Do not read this without reading books by the likes of Christopher Paul Curtis, Rita Williams-Garcia, John Lewis, Carole Boston Weatherford, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Jacqueline Woodson, Kekla Magoon, and Walter Dean Myers (and others)....more
A powerful novel that put me in mind of a more sophisticated Stella by Starlight. There are a lot of things to admire about this story: strong charactA powerful novel that put me in mind of a more sophisticated Stella by Starlight. There are a lot of things to admire about this story: strong characters, vivid historical setting, and a moving premise. Rose faces a central question: Should I stay or should I go? Why stay in the Mississippi Delta when it's so dangerous for black people? Why stay and fight for your rights when you could get killed? How should she judge her relatives that have left Mississippi to go north? And how should she feel about those who seem to accept their lives as second-class citizens?
I would put this on par with Night on Fire, which was also a great eye-opener on a subject about which much has already been written. This book is not cliche-ridden. It's not about a perfectly heroic kid overcoming inequality. It's a coming-of-age story about a realistically scared and unsure 13-year-old kid discovering how the world works and trying to decide her place in it.
This is a middle grade book for a relatively mature reader. Someone who can understand how colorism (the privileging of light skin over dark) lives alongside racism. Someone who can understand why the n-word is used both casually and dramatically throughout the book. Someone who can understand how different generations of African American families can feel so differently about white terrorism. It is challenging to read some of the dialect. It is challenging to keep some of the characters straight because they are referred to by different names. It would be helpful to go into this book knowing the story of Emmett Till (so they know it's not fictional). Obviously, there's a lot of violence - not just white terrorism but also domestic violence in Rose's family. It would be a great book club book because there is so much fodder for discussion and analysis.
I took a star off for a few clunky didactic parts that took me out of the story. For example, on page 260, Monty rattles off a pretty long quote from the Emmett Till trial. Later he rattles off the origins of the name Rosa. On page 272 Rose says Monty is a "walking, talking Encyclopedia Britannica." In other words, he's conveniently there to inform the reader. But this is a pretty minor quibble.
I will certainly pick up the sequel and I hope there are many great books to come from Linda Williams Jackson....more
Adorable, precocious narrator? Check. Lovable canine companion? Check. Wacky road trip full that takes unexpected turns? Check. A family secret discoveAdorable, precocious narrator? Check. Lovable canine companion? Check. Wacky road trip full that takes unexpected turns? Check. A family secret discovered? Check. A cast of quirky supporting characters? Check.
I have seen every major element of this middle grade novel's plot before. What sets it apart is the style - the entire book is like a transcript of audio recordings. Ironically, I did not think the audiobook was good. The format required the narrators to not just narrate but act. The main narrator (who sounded like an actual kid) did a good job, but the other narrators... not so much. My theory is that they were never in a room together but recorded their parts separately, so the interactions didn't sound real. The recording won an AudioFile Earphones Award, so I suppose I'm in the minority opinion on this. I generally dislike "full cast" style audiobooks. Still, I love the idea of it and I think kids will like it and it will be a great listen for a family road trip.
It's hard for me to let go and enjoy books like this because I find myself keeping a checklist of every cliche. At the same time I recognize that this book has a lot of heart and will connect with a lot of readers. Alex is over-the-top naive for an 11-year-old sometimes, but dang it if he isn't super cute. His singular preoccupation with rocket science (especially Carl Sagan and the Jodie Foster movie Contact) lend the book a nice science hook and provide the conceit for the format: Alex is making a "golden iPod" recording to send to aliens to explain life on Earth. This theme sort of mashes with the family theme. Alex is suddenly inspired to go find his long dead father after he discovers on Ancestry.com that he might be alive after all. It's a bit inelegant, but it makes for a packed story. Even with Alex summing up the story way too many times, it still flies by....more
I think if I'd read this when it was first published six years ago I would've liked it a lot. But now it's 2017 and I'm hyper-aware of the cultural doI think if I'd read this when it was first published six years ago I would've liked it a lot. But now it's 2017 and I'm hyper-aware of the cultural dominance of white male voices. So I was distracted from the story by how white-cis-male it is. I probably would not have finished it after the part where Wade listed Halliday's 1980s cultural touchstones. I rolled my eyes so hard at that list. Not because it was so nerdy, but because it was so white-cis-male. (No Madonna? No Michael Jackson? Eddie Murphy? Cosby?) To be clear, there's nothing wrong with this per se (I'm certainly not arguing that Halliday would've been super into Whitney Houston). I'm just not interested in these kinds of stories. I'd rather be reading something else. White male voices have dominated my reading for most of my life and I'd prefer to broaden my literary horizons.
But my sister said I *had* to read this book because it's my niece's favorite. And so I finished it. It was entertaining. It had some issues.
I thought Art3mis was too much the manic pixie dream girl. She is basically perfect. She fills a stereotypical role in a fantasy: the object of the hero's desire. She is smart, yes. She is a force to be reckoned with in the OASIS. But she is defined by her relationship to Wade and therefore a flat character. How can you have a powerful female gamer character and not explore *at all* the issues female gamers face?
I thought Aech's true identity was problematic. Spoilers ensue: (view spoiler)[On the surface it is nice to include diversity in the cast. But what does it mean when a self-described "gay fat black chick" could pass as a straight while male, even to her best friend? It probably means Wade doesn't actually know her that well. It probably means Ernest Cline doesn't really know how to write a three-dimensional black lesbian character. He wrote a dude-bro white guy character and then assigned that character a different identity. Possible in a virtual world, yes. But not satisfying to this reader. It was frustrating that Cline throws out this idea that women of color have power in the OASIS to pass as white males, but he doesn't explore the ramifications. Sure, Wade is a teenage narrator who is credibly clueless. But couldn't someone clue him in? Or is Cline sort of clueless himself? (hide spoiler)]
This is a fun ride, but pretty shallow. It follows a classic white male quest. Call it retro sci-fi?...more
This is a great audiobook. (I liked the narrator so much, I'm likely to listen to another of his books in the future, regardless of what the book is aThis is a great audiobook. (I liked the narrator so much, I'm likely to listen to another of his books in the future, regardless of what the book is about.)
Seventh grader Matthew has been struggling with an intense fear of germs and illness for years (he's afraid to leave his house and compulsively washes his hands over and over). Because he's always inside looking out his window, people call him "Goldfish Boy." But when a toddler neighbor is kidnapped he tries to overcome his phobia to help find the missing child.
I think the Kirkus review summed up my feelings: "Thompson strikes the perfect balance, seemingly without compromise, between an issue-driven novel and one with broad, commercial appeal. This empathetic debut is a middle-grade whodunit with a very special heart."
...which is to say this story is both compelling and enjoyable. It had some really funny moments. All of the characters felt fully human. I loved that the book's villains had understandable motivations.
I'm looking forward to booktalking this for 5th and 6th graders. ...more
A moving book about the inner life of Flora, a girl who grew up in multiple homes through the foster care system. She is permanently adopted, along wiA moving book about the inner life of Flora, a girl who grew up in multiple homes through the foster care system. She is permanently adopted, along with her younger brother, at the age of nine. Flora and her brother Julian don't believe they were ever born. They think they never had a biological family. Now Flora is eleven years old and trying really hard to trust her new mom and believe that she and Julian will be with her forever. But she is held back by her ignorance of her own origins.
The subject matter is important and the writing is mostly very good, but I struggled with the length. There were a lot of unnecessary paragraphs. I'm generally a patient reader, but I skimmed big chunks of this that didn't seem relevant to the plot. I was eager to find out about Flora and Julian's past. The meandering pace left me frustrated.
I was ambivalent about the italicized interstitial "Theory #" pieces. Yes, they were lovely pieces of writing. But they weren't in Flora's voice. They were lyrical, poetic. They were in the first person plural, speaking for both Flora and Julian. I think they might have worked better in third person because it felt like the author's own voice taking over Flora's.
I also never understood why no one had access to Flora and Julian's birth certificates. I understand why they didn't have originals, but copies of birth certificates can be obtained from government records. It seemed like an obvious way to prove to Flora that she was born and to find the names of her birth parents. I kept waiting for someone to go there and no one did. Frustrating. Was there some mention of this that I missed?
The best part of this book, I think, is that it explores an experience that is sadly common but not represented well in children's literature. The book is certainly critical of the foster care system, but didn't feel overly didactic (though it did tread close when they got to Jeannie the meanie). I think young readers will sympathize with Flora (even when she punches someone) and Julian (even when he's hiding food in his closet). Definitely a worthwhile read....more
I didn't actually like this the first time I read it. I started to appreciate it the second time I read it. The third time I read it, I was like, wow.I didn't actually like this the first time I read it. I started to appreciate it the second time I read it. The third time I read it, I was like, wow. This is beautiful.
I think it's because, as a children's librarian, the first thing in my mind when I pick up a new picture book is always: "Will this work for story time?"
The second thing in my mind is: "Will this work for a school visit?"
Finally, my mind comes around to: "Do I like this?"