Much like the beloved classic on which it is based, A Christmas CaroDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
Much like the beloved classic on which it is based, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Young Scrooge by R.L. Stine takes the rather unconventional step of telling the story of the character one might traditionally consider the antagonist. Rick Scroogeman is a bully. While he believes his actions are all in good fun, as the reader watches Rick stomp on his classmates’ feet, push them into lockers, mock their weight, and mimic another student’s stutter, it quickly becomes clear that his mean-spirited “pranks” are seen as anything but by his classmates. This bad behaviour is only exacerbated by the approach of the holiday season, because Rick absolutely hates Christmas. In addition to his classmates teasing him about his surname (calling him “Scrooge” instead of Scroogeman) Rick also resents having to share his birthday with one of the biggest holidays of the year, often finding his special day is overlooked in lieu of the trappings and traditions of Christmas. After intentionally destroying the school’s Christmas play and remaining unrepentant in the face of his principal’s condemnation, it isn’t until Rick is visited by three ghosts that he is finally given a taste of his own medicine and taught the error of his ways.
While there’s nothing wrong with a flawed or unlikeable character, particularly because this provides an excellent baseline from which the protagonist is able to grow, Rick lacks the sincerity and self-awareness to make his evolution ever feel truly satisfying or enduring. (“I knew why the Ghost Of Christmas Past had brought me back to this awful place. To learn about the Golden Rule and all that junk about why it’s better to be a nice boy. But all I could think about was revenge.”) Rick’s hollow promises at the conclusion of the novel do not seem born out of a genuine desire to change, but rather a self-interested means of escaping further torment at the hands of his spectral visitors. Unfortunately, given how the novel ends, there can be little doubt that Rick’s “transformation” will be extremely short-lived.
Young Scrooge would make a serviceable book for parents to read with their children during the holidays, as it provides an accessible introduction to Dicken’s beloved classic and encourages young readers to be mindful of the power their words and actions can have on others, though the latter is somewhat undermined by the the novel’s troubling conclusion. Though R.L. Stine’s latest lacks the emotional resonance and enduring message of the original story on which it is based, Young Scrooge is a strange and silly re-imagining filled with ghosts, zombies, robots and anthropomorphic snowmen that is sure to delight younger readers on whom the larger message might be lost but Stine’s signature combination of macabre comedy and horror surely will not....more
When two police ofDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
There was a corpse in my neighbour’s front yard.
When two police officers arrive unexpectedly on the Doherty doorstep one week before Halloween, fifteen-year-old high school sophomore Flynn Doherty’s biggest concern is the half ounce of weed he and his best friend, Micah, had purchased and hidden in Flynn’s bedroom days before. The last thing Flynn anticipated was that they were, in actuality, there to inform and question him about the sudden disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and best friend, January McConville. Wracked with guilt about his inability to be entirely honest about the last time he saw January, dissatisfied with the scope of the police’s inquiry and desperate for answers about the girl he loved and once believed he knew better than he knew himself, Flynn begins to conduct his own examination into the circumstances surrounding January’s disappearance. When January’s blood-soaked clothes are discovered and the scope of the investigation shifts from ‘missing’ to ‘murder’, however, the stakes have never been higher as Flynn desperately attempts to determine which of his ever-growing list of suspects had the motive, means and opportunity to do her harm. Was it January’s step-father, the ambitious and manipulative state senator? The scheming, unscrupulous campaign manager? The directionless, disgusting step-brother? The narcissistic, histrionic mother? As evidence mounts, secrets are revealed, lives are changed – and lost – and Flynn’s investigation intensifies, one crucial question remains: What happened to January McConville?
January had been troubled by something, and I was so terrified of being honest that I’d made things worse on purpose. And now she was missing. Missing. What if the scenario was truly worst case? What if I could have done something to prevent it, but I’d let my secret get in the way?
Last Seen Leaving is a novel predicated on a boy’s search for his missing ex-girlfriend but as Flynn quickly discovers, searching for the truth about January’s disappearance will mean first accepting and understanding the truth about his own sexuality and authentic self. Having grown up in a quiet, middle class suburban neighbourhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Flynn never questioned what he perceived to be the inevitability of his future as a heterosexual man, going so far as to expect a sexual attraction to women to eventually develop, even when there was ample evidence that this would never occur. Flynn’s growing understanding that his future may be very different than the one he imagined and that it’s imperative that he be honest – both with himself and with others – about his sexual orientation offers a touching and insightful glimpse into the experience of coming out and acts as one of the central narratives of the novel. Though the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s journey of self discovery are, admittedly, a little extreme, they are no less realistic or relatable as Roehrig explores numerous aspects of the queer experience. Gay readers will no doubt find visibility and comfort in Flynn’s story and the love and acceptance he ultimately receives from the majority of those in his life. While it eventually becomes clear that Flynn was never sexually or romantically attracted to January, there can be no doubt for his deep love for her. The author accomplishes this by thoughtfully and carefully interspersing the narrative with moments from their shared history, which allows for a greater understanding of January’s character, whom the reader is only ever able to learn about from the unreliable and subjective perspective of other, and underlines a significant and abiding connection between Flynn and January that extends far beyond the physical.
January gave me a bemused look that might or might not have been genuine, a knowing glint flickering in the depths of her placid blue eyes. “Flynn, haven’t you figured it out by now? I’m not scared of anything.”
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive… In addition to being a captivating contemporary story, Last Seen Leaving is also a gripping and elaborately-constructed mystery. Roehrig seamlessly blends the contemporary, thriller and mystery genres to great success, incorporating elements of the former without ever losing sight of the latter. Readers cannot help but feel compelled to keep reading as Flynn’s investigation hurtles toward its startling and surprising conclusion, ultimately unravelling the convoluted web of lies, secrets and deception that have long defined January’s life. In doing so, Flynn also uncovers a plethora of suspects, each of whom have a compelling and increasingly sordid reason to want January to disappear. Last Seen Leaving also successfully subverts tropes synonymous with the thriller and mystery genres as well as reader expectations as it explores a narrative outside of the largely tragedy-based LGBTQIA stories that have long saturated the YA market. Flynn is not the victim of a violent crime whose suffering is meant to teach the audience a lesson about ‘tolerance’ or inclusion, but rather the brave hero whose tireless efforts and dogged determination single-handedly solve the case. Representation matters, and literature is never more powerful than when it is used to show readers of all races, religions, backgrounds, body types, and sexual orientations that they deserve to be the heroes and heroines of their own story. Last Seen Leaving reinforces this, demonstrating that a homosexual protagonist can solve the crime, fall in love, and save the day and need not be relegated to the background or a supporting role. Flynn’s burgeoning romance with a secondary male character, a Muslim, is especially charming and beautifully executed as Flynn is given the opportunity to act on his true feelings and desires for the very first time.
Would we really find her today? Did we want to? After all, if she were this close to home, and had been all along, then either she was camping in the woods somewhere…or she was dead. And January had never been a big fan of camping.
As the days grow shorter and the evenings grow colder, few books are more perfectly suited for a dark and stormy night spent curled up indoors than Last Seen Leaving, an impressive and accomplished debut novel from a promising new voice in young adult fiction. A diverse, inclusive #OwnVoices narrative that seamlessly blends the contemporary and thriller genres to great success, Last Seen Leaving offers a compelling character study and a complex mystery complete with twists, turns, and an unexpected conclusion that will have readers riveted until the very last page....more
Please Note:Girl In Pieces might prove triggering for some readersDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
Please Note:Girl In Pieces might prove triggering for some readers with a history of self harm or suicidal ideations.
The girls here, they try to get me to talk. They want to know What’s your story, morning glory? Tell me your tale, snail. I hear their stories every day in Group, at lunch, in Crafts, at breakfast, at dinner, on and on. These words that spill from them, black memories, they can’t stop. Their stories are eating them alive, turning them inside out. They cannot stop talking.
I cut all my words out. My heart was too full of them.
When seventeen-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” Davis wakes up to find herself in the self-harm unit of Creeley Centre, a psychiatric hospital, she isn’t quite sure what to think. Struggling with depression and selective mutism after a failed suicide attempt and a myriad of trauma in her personal life, Charlie is nonetheless thankful for the stability and guidance that the hospital provides. This is a far cry from the dangers and difficulties of living on the street as she has been forced to do before. It isn’t until Charlie’s health insurance runs out and she is forced to leave the safe confines of Creeley Centre that she is faced with her most difficult challenge yet as Charlie must apply all she has learned in treatment in the real world. With few remaining ties to Minnesota and a contentious relationship with her mother which makes returning home a virtual impossibility, Charlie decides to begin again in Arizona where she quickly seeks solace in the arms of Riley, an aging musician whose undeniable potential has been lost in an increasingly worse case of substance abuse. As these two broken souls become closer, however, Charlie will eventually learn that recovery can not be found in the arms of a virtual stranger, the broken shards of a mason jar, or the bottom of a bottle, but deep within oneself. Laurie Halse Anderson meets Sylvia Plath in Girl In Pieces, a poignant, sensitive and heart-wrenching examination of mental illness, self-harm and recovery in a contemporary young adult debut perfect for fans of Girl, Interrupted.
“You girls today. You make me so fucking sad. The world hurts enough. Why fucking chase it down?”
One of the most noble and extraordinary things about literature is its ability to explore the lives of those whose stories might otherwise go untold and Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl In Pieces is no exception. While novels about cutting and self-harm have been published before – Cut by Patricia McCormick, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield and Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, just to name a few – books on this subject are still a relative rarity, especially when one considers that one in two hundred girls between the ages of 13-19 self harm, and 70% of those who do are cutters (As quoted in the author’s note at the conclusion of the novel). In her 2016 debut, Glasgow offers readers a deeply empathetic portrait of a young girl valiantly attempting to heal the wounds of her past and embrace the possibility of her future. Charlie Davis is a character of few words, but for whom even the unspoken speaks volumes. Suffering from selective mutism and episodes of dissociation as a means of coping with the trauma she has experienced, there are portions of the novel in which the protagonist is left silently observing – and even actively detached – from the world around her. It is a testament to Glasgow’s incredible skill as a writer that despite this, however, these passages never prove alienating or distancing. Every stage of Charlie’s recovery is recorded in meticulous detail which forges an immediate bond between protagonist and reader and transforms ordinarily mundane activities – the finding of shelter, the procurement of food, etc – into monumental triumphs as the reader becomes increasingly invested in Charlie’s success. Because of the confessional, intimate manner in which the story is related, Glasgow transforms the perspective of the reader from voyeur to participant as the audience is made to feel as though they are not merely witnessing the events of the novel, but actively experiencing them firsthand, making them feel complicit in Charlie’s good – and bad – choices to deeply emotional, and visceral, effect.
“Everyone has that moment, I think, the moment when something so…momentous happens that it rips your very being into small pieces. And then you have to stop. For a long time, you gather your pieces. And it takes such a very long time, not to fit them back together, but to assemble them in a new way, not necessarily a better way. More, a way you can live with until you know for certain that this piece should go there, and that one there.”
Girl In Pieces is a difficult and challenging read, but never unfairly so, and should be commended on the breadth and depth of the subject matter it explores. In it, debut author Kathleen Glasgow touches upon issues of self-harm, suicide, sexual assault, substance abuse and homelessness without ever appearing proselytizing, sanctimonious or inaccessible. Rather, far from sensationalising or capitalizing upon the suffering of others for entertainment purposes, Girl In Pieces instead offers tangible coping mechanisms and strategies for readers in a situation similar to Charlie’s. This is due in large part to Glasgow’s conscious, positive portrayal of therapy and the value the novel places in artistic expression (i.e. the visual arts and music) as a means of deconstructing and expressing feelings one might otherwise struggle to vocalize. Moreover, Girl In Pieces is a novel greater than the sum of its parts as the author uses the aforementioned issues to explore universal truths about loneliness, identity, community, and belonging. These ideas are conveyed in sparse, diary-like entries reminiscent of the lyricism of poetry, which organically allow the story to dictate the narrative structure. While Girl In Pieces will undoubtedly face opposition when being proposed for circulation in public education circles due to its use of explicit language and the often graphic nature of subject matter it examines, I would not hesitate to press this book into the hand of every teen as I have no doubt there are innumerable young readers for whom Charlie’s journey will provide a great deal of visibility, comfort, and hope.
People should know about us. Girls who write their pain on their bodies.
A modern classic in the same vein as Speak and Go Ask Alice, Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl In Pieces is a haunting, visceral portrait of one young girl’s valiant journey to recovery in a novel that explores themes of hope, healing, and community. The stakes have never been higher than in this life-changing – and life-saving – debut as, for Charlie Davis, coming of age means first determining how to survive in a world that can be every bit as cruel, disinterested and destructive as it is inspiring, heartening and limitless. Glasgow captures the triumphs and failures of adolescence and the human experience in a cathartic, unvarnished but ultimately optimistic tale that reminds readers there is light at the end of even the darkest of tunnels. The world is a better and more beautiful place because this book is now in it.
Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advance reader copy and therefore might be subject to change....more
"This was when I learned one of the biggest secrets of being a womanDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
"This was when I learned one of the biggest secrets of being a woman, which is that much of the time, we don’t feel like we’re women at all.” In her new, irreverent collection of comic essays, comedian and writer Jessi Klein explores (and often skewers) the performance and perception of feminism, femininity and womanhood, particularly for those who feel they don’t necessarily prescribe to some – or even all – of the ideals traditionally synonymous with such. Whether she’s examining her physical and psychological issues with bubble baths (“This is why Virginia Woolf stressed the importance of having a room of one’s own. If you don’t fight for it, don’t insist on it, and don’t sacrifice for it, you might end up in that increasingly tepid water, pruning and sweating while dreaming of other things.”) or natural childbirth (“No-one ever asks a man if he’s having a “natural root canal”. No-one ever asks a man if he is having a “natural vasectomy”. GET THE EPIDURAL.”), from porn to periods, proposals to pregnancy, Klein leaves no stone in a woman’s personal and professional life unturned. You’ll Grow Out Of It is a collection that is as enlightening as it is entertaining as Klein segues from the lighthearted (“Victoria’s real secret, or at least it was a secret to me, is that their stores are shitshows.”) to a sincere reflection on the importance of embracing and following one’s dreams. The author’s dry wit, candid commentary and self-deprecating humour create an immediate rapport between herself and her audience as Klein shares hard-earned wisdom and amusing anecdotes that are sure to have readers laughing aloud and turning the pages as quickly as they can. You’ll Grow Out Of It is fun, funny, and would make a fantastic addition to any reader’s bookshelves. Read it now. Thank me later....more
She was trying to help her friends see the bright side – but at theDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
She was trying to help her friends see the bright side – but at the same time, the pit of worry that had entered her stomach in the schoolyard now felt like it was sprouting into a full-grown tree of anxiety. Two classes with Charissa and none with Parm left a whole lot of classes with zero friends. Her parents would surely advise her to make new ones, but Gladys would rather tackle a hundred difficult new recipes than force herself to talk to one new person.
Goodbye, East Dumpsford Elementary. Hello, Dumpsford Township Middle School! As summer comes to a close and culinary wunderkind Gladys Gatsby prepares for the first day of seventh grade, a new school will soon be the least of her worries as Gladys contends with new clubs, new commitments, new friends (and enemies), new rules and new beginnings. With her plate increasingly full and her status as the New York Standard‘s preeminent restaurant critic still a carefully-guarded secret, Gladys will have to work harder than ever before as she faces her most difficult challenges yet.
…She couldn’t help but think back to the way her classmates (mostly girls) used to make fun of her love of arugula. And that was just a salad green! Now Sandy actually wanted to have a reputation at his school for eating gross foods? Boys were weird.
Reading Tara Dairman’s Stars So Sweet, the third and final instalment in the author’s throughly enchanting All Four Stars middle grade series, was an incredibly bittersweet experience. For the last three years, a new release from Dairman has been one of the highlights of my summer, and while I was eager to embark on another adventure with Gladys Gatsby, I couldn’t help but grow sad that this novel would mark our final journey together. That said, as things heat up in and out of the kitchen, I can think of no better way to bid adieu to this scrumptious series than Stars So Sweet, a tasty morsel that’s good to the last bite and proves to be the author’s sweetest book yet.
Gladys sighed. It was great to have her talents appreciated, especially since it was a feeling she didn’t always get at home. But it didn’t feel so great to know Fiona’s admiration was still based on a big deception. If Fiona knew how truly unique Gladys’ voice was, would she still be so interested in having her at the paper full-time?
Over-committed and under a great deal of pressure, the stakes have never been higher for Gladys Gatsby as she is forced to juggle academic, personal and professional considerations. Faced with the prospect of a new assignment AND a potential promotion, Gladys’ unintentional deception and secret double life culminate in a taut, exciting adventure that will leave readers on the edge of their seat until the very last page. What will happen when Gladys tells her editor – and her parents! – the truth? Will her dreams be over before they ever truly begun? Only time will tell as Gladys is forced to use every ounce of her courage, creativity and tenacity to determine what the future holds. It is not what challenges Gladys faces, however, but how she faces them that truly define her. Even when she feels as though “a live fish was flopping around in her stomach” or “like a single chocolate chip drowning in a huge bowl of cookie batter”, Gladys never fails to meet each and every challenge head-on with careful, measured judgement and a little extra help and advice from her friends.
“Seeing your goals is the first step. But reaching them often requires taking many more.” She approached Gladys’ desk again. “The good news is that you don’t need to see the entire path clearly to set out on it; you just need to see a few feet ahead of you.”
Stars So Sweet also sees the return of some of the series’ most familiar and beloved secondary characters including Parm Singh, Sandy Anderson, Charissa Bentley, Fiona Inglethorpe, and everyone’s favourite literary prodigy and author of the best-selling novel, Zombietown, U.S.A., Hamilton Herbertson. One of the things readers can appreciate most about Dairman’s supporting cast is that each feels like the main character in their own right, with feelings, aspirations and desires independent of that of the protagonist. In Stars So Sweet, Sandy’s busy working on cementing his legacy as the Gross-Out King and “The Boy Who’ll Eat Anything” at St. Joseph’s Academy, Parm is struggling to raise enough money to allow the girls’ soccer team to attend the regional tournament in Pennsylvania, Charissa is attempting to balance one too many extracurricular activities and Hamilton is trying his best to live a more normal life. Perhaps best of all, much to my surprise and delight Stars So Sweet also includes LGBTQ content as Dairman explores how one of the secondary characters has a crush on another character of the same sex. This revelation is handled with a great deal of thought and sensitivity, and creates a wonderful opportunity for young readers to speak with their parents about the importance of inclusivity, diversity and the beauty of love in any form.
She had spent the afternoon at Rolanda’s house working on the mask cookies with the Drama Club. Several of the other members actually had baking experience, which should have made the undertaking go more smoothly – and it did for a while, until everyone started belting out show tunes from Phantom Of The Opera. Gladys left the house with both a splitting headache and an intense desire to send the chandelier in Rolanda’s dining room crashing down on every screeching, warbling Andrew Lloyd Webber fan there.
Over the course of the All Four Stars trilogy, Tara Dairman has fostered a greater awareness of and appreciation for the role food plays in our lives, encouraging young readers to be unafraid to expand their palate and be more adventuresome in their culinary choices. From exploring the intricacies of Salvadoran, Cuban and Peruvian cuisine to unusual dried meat delicacies like emu, camel, yak, kangaroo and alligator, Stars So Sweet continues this tradition, managing to both entertain and educate as Gladys is exposed to a wide variety of foodstuffs from around the world. As was the case with the previous instalments in the series, however, readers should be warned against devouring Stars So Sweet on an empty stomach as from grilled swordfish dressed with tomato and saffron coulis to rosewater flan, the author’s descriptions of the delectable dishes Gladys encounters on her adventures are as vivid and as mouthwatering as ever. Sparkling dialogue, clever chapter titles (“Lobster Lockdown”, “In Hot Water”, “Pie In The Sky”, “A Sour Note”) and creative twists on ubiquitous icons like Hell’s Kitchen and Shakespeare’s Macbeth ensure that the overall narrative voice is as charming, effervescent and fun as ever. Most importantly, Dairman never condescends to her audience, instead trusting them to pick up on the subtleties of the text, particularly the valuable lessons about honestly, responsibility and diversity Stars So Sweet so delicately touches upon.
She steeled herself. She could ace this test. She would ace this test. She would prove her identity – and, at the same time, prove to her doubting editor that kids could appreciate more than just chicken fingers and ketchup.
What can I possibly say about this wonderful, wondrous series that I haven’t said already? Stars So Sweet and its predecessors deserve all four stars and then some as Tara Dairman proves once and for all that there is no age limit on a truly exceptional story. Whether you’re young or young at heart, readers of all ages will be able to delight in the hijinks and hilarity of the adventures of Gladys Gatsby as she takes on everything from bake sales and middle school dances to journalistic integrity and entrepreneurial enterprises. In Gladys, accomplished middle grade author Tara Dairman has crafted a character as timeless, as delightful, and as loveable as any created for this (or any other) age group, and one that can stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with the Harriet M. Welschs and Sara Crewes of the world. Three cheers for Gladys Gatsby!
Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advance reader copy and therefore might be subject to change....more
Everything I Never Told You is a heart-wrenching examination of a faDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
Everything I Never Told You is a heart-wrenching examination of a family in crisis after the unexpected and untimely death of their most beloved member, Lydia, the middle daughter and reluctant centre of their universe. Though the novel begins in May 1977, no detail is too small to escape Ng’s notice, as the author delves deeply into the lives of the four primary characters – Marilyn (the mother), James (the father), Nathan (the eldest brother) and Hannah (the youngest daughter) – both past and present. The novel’s narration and pace are languid and elegant, like trying to capture the last, fleeting moments of a dream, or wading ever deeper into the deep, murky water in which Lydia’s body was found, and perfectly encapsulates the suffocating sense of grief and isolation that permeates every page. As the story hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion to answer its most burning question – “What happened to Lydia Lee?” – readers learn more about the lies, secrets and dysfunction that exist just below the surface of this seemingly happy family. Everything I Never Told You is a thrilling page-turner that throbs with the intense vulnerability of a raw nerve as Ng incises the Lee family secrets with the precision and deft hands of a skilled surgeon and explores how insidiously and perversely the legacy of a parent’s past can bleed into a child’s future. Touching upon issues of racism, classism, interracial relationships, infidelity and homosexuality, Celeste Ng’s debut is a literary fiction masterpiece that would make an excellent book club selection....more
My crew was my family. But they didn’t understand what it was like fDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
My crew was my family. But they didn’t understand what it was like for me. The more we danced together, the more I felt like I didn’t belong. Kassie and Carson had chosen to leave their studios. I’d never even set foot in one. I was the outsider in a group of outsiders.
A real dancer. That’s what twelve-year-old Dillon Parker longs to be most, a feeling that only intensifies every time he admires the clean lines and practiced moves of his fellow dancers and friends, Kassie and Carson. So, when Dillon learns that Dance-Splosion, the largest dance studio in all of East Tennessee, is offering a three-week summer scholarship in June to one lucky dancer, he is quick to make an audition tape. The only problem? Kassie and Carson see dance studios as ‘sellouts’ that diminish the pure expression and art of dance and their crew, Dizzee Freekz, has only one motto: “The crew comes first”. Dillon knows Kassie and Carson won’t approve of his desire to be classically trained and when his audition video goes viral, is sure they’ll be furious. As it turns out, however, they’re anything but. Excited about the prospect of “getting behind enemy lines”, Kassie and Carson devise a plan to have Dillon – with the unwitting help of resident Queen Bee and Dance-Spolosion’s brightest star, Sarah Middleton – win the scholarship only to publicly humiliate the studio by refusing to accept it during the Heartland Dance Challenge ceremony. As his lessons with Sarah begin in earnest and the scholarship seems well within reach, however, Dillon will be forced to reconcile his growing desire for traditional training with his conflicted loyalties to his friends and family who believe he should be pursuing anything but.
Sure, the entire school was probably at home sharing the video of my underwear, putting it to different music tracks, adding in a whole library of gross sound effects for the big reveal at the end. But they were watching the old Dillion Parker. The one who was dancing without any hope of ever getting better. I was the new and improved Dillon Parker. The one who had just gotten permission to get some actual help from a destined-to-be-professional dancer.
There are few stories that bring me more joy than those that allow a character to embrace and celebrate their passions. Identifying what makes us most happy – and living a life that allows us to honour that – is one of the most important and gratifying things we can hope to do in our lives. Brooks Benjamin’s charming, clever and warm-hearted debut follows one boy’s valiant quest to do just that, exploring valuable truths about creativity, self-expression and standing up for who you are and what you believe in. My Seventh-Grade Life In Tights is an uplifting, empowering story that encourages young readers to dance like no-one is watching and to be proud to move to the rhythm of their own, unique song.
I could walk away from this whole thing with an entire arsenal of new moves. Improved techniques. Maybe even an actual dance style. My moment of last-day-of-summer treachery had just unlocked a door for me. One that might be able to slingshot me to the top of any choreographer’s list. There was too much excitement puling through my veins for me to sit down. I hopped up out of my chair, pacing back and forth. My eyes were locked on Sarah. Come to me, Tighty Whitey, she was saying. Let me help you become a real dancer. Yup. That door was unlocking. And I was about to ninja-kick the thing down.
At its core, My Seventh-Grade Life In Tights centers around the pursuit of one’s passions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the novel’s protagonist, twelve-year-old Dillon Parker. Brimming with infectious enthusiasm, earnest sincerity and a genuine desire to forge his own path, Dillion is faced with a number of monumental choices over the course of the novel. Many of these choices are neither inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They merely are, and it is up to Dillon to determine which are best for him – even if it means making (and making up for) a few mistakes along the way. The author also explores the notion of logical fallacies, encouraging young readers to challenge information or opinions otherwise presented as absolutes. Should Dillon pursue dance or football? Classical training or improvised movement? Many of these paths are not mutually exclusive and Dillon’s journey demonstrates that it is not merely the consumption and collection of knowledge, but a careful and considered interpretation of such, that allow for the greatest success. It is this debate – instruction vs. instinct and appearance vs. authenticity – that act as the basis for all that follows. The author trusts young readers to draw their own conclusions as Benjamin uses Dillon’s journey to impart valuable lessons about creative expression and remaining true to oneself without ever appearing condescending or sanctimonious. Whatever the outcome, Dillon’s intense vulnerability and self-deprecating humour are sure to capture readers’ imaginations, as well as their hearts.
When I’d fallen into this whole mess, I’d know exactly what I wanted. To get some dance help and sneak back out before things got complicated. But now? Seeing the big “What if?” staring back at me? Seeing real dancers in a real studio churning out moves that I only dreamed of doing? I wasn’t so sure anymore.
In his authorial debut, Brooks Benjamin makes a concerted effort to dispel a number of harmful stereotypes, particularly those relating to sexual and gender-based discrimination. In doing so, the author creates a diverse and inclusive environment in which his characters are celebrated not in spite of their differences, but because of them. When Dillion’s father expresses concern about Dillion pursuing dance as a hobby (“Boys who dance get called a lot of things, Dillion. I don’t want you to have to go through that.”), Dillion is understandably baffled. After all, why would anyone pick on him for enjoying something as simple and innocent as dancing? Surely the most dangerous thing about dance is Dillon’s tendency to trip over anything – and everything – in sight, right? In including these and other conversations, Benjamin expertly exposes the senseless, arbitrary nature of rigid gender binaries and how this learned behaviour is as insidious and pervasive as it is destructive. In a story that encourages young readers to be unafraid to strike a pose and find the right moves for them, Benjamin creates a world that contains evidence of racial, sexual and financial diversity, including the addition of an absolutely charming homosexual romance between Dillon’s friend, Carson, and another of the novel’s male, secondary characters. On a purely stylistic level, My Seventh-Grade Life In Tights is also a success. The author’s narrative style is pitch-perfect for the middle grade audience for whom the novel is intended, beautifully capturing the humour and cadence of dialogue for this age group. It can often be difficult for authors to capture the ineffable magic of the arts in writing (the stroke of a brush against canvas, the tenor of a song sung with passion, the defiance of gravity in a truly spectacular grand jeté) but Benjamin does so beautifully. Each of the dance routines are detailed in descriptive, evocative language – including one pants-splitting routine that Dillon would likely rather soon forget!
It was time to finish this thing. Time to step up and do what it was going to take to finally become a real dancer. And there was only one way to do that. I had to strut onto that stage wearing a pair of tights and dance like I’d never danced before.
YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE AWESOME! As the Dizzee Freekz’s Youtube channel proudly declares, My Seventh-Grade Life In Tights is filled to the brim with passion, pizzazz, and pure, unadulterated awesome. Funny, heartfelt, and introspective in all the right places, Brooks Benjamin’s middle grade debut is sure to inspire a Dance Dance Revolution and have even the most rhythmically-challenged readers of all ages reaching for their very own pair of tights.
Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advance reader copy and therefore might be subject to change....more
Most of the ladies seem to want to share this mysterious secret withDid you find this review helpful? Find more of my reviews at Pop! Goes The Reader!
Most of the ladies seem to want to share this mysterious secret with me, and that means my time living at Grandma Jo’s house might not be as boring as I expected. Then again, if my grandmother gets her way, it sounds like I’ll be sewing useless stuff all summer, totally clueless about what’s happening on the other side of the wall. How dare she dismiss me without even giving me a chance, just because I’m not like her, obsessed with dresses and tea parties and bridge! Sure, I like to have actual fun once in a while, but that doesn’t mean I should be kept in the dark. Whatever they’re hiding, I want in. It has to be more interesting than cross-stitch.
When her parents leave for a four week trip to the Amazon rainforest to conduct research on malaria, twelve-year-old AJ is forced to move in with her straight-laced Grandma Josephine. Faced with the prospect of a month filled with etiquette lessons, sewing samplers, and more rules than she can possibly remember, AJ is dreading what she expects to be the longest four weeks of her life until an unexpected discovery proves that not everything – or everyone – are quite what they seem. When it’s revealed that Grandma Jo’s bridge club is really a heist club that ‘ethically liberates’ animals and objects and returns them to their ‘rightful owners’, AJ is offered the opportunity to become an honourary member and take part in their upcoming heists. From abused birds to taxidermied bears, there is no prize too small or too strange as AJ, Grandma Jo, Cookie, Edna and Betty embark on a series of quirky capers undertaken by a motley crew of crooks. As the lines are blurred and the stakes are raised, however, AJ’s time with the classy crooks club begins to seem less like a fun-filled adventure and more like outright thievery, forcing AJ to question her ethics, her choices, and what it truly means to be a lady.
No more sewing? That’s the best news I’ve heard in weeks. And if I do really well with the heist training, maybe my grandmother will actually see my athleticism as useful, even if it’s not ladylike as sewing your name onto a pillowcase. Maybe she’ll stop looking down her nose at me every time I go to soccer or mention my skateboard. Maybe, for once, I’ll feel like the two of us are on the same team.
Alison Cherry is now officially a middle grade author and the world is a better, brighter, and more beautiful place because of it. I was first introduced to Cherry’s work in December 2014 when I read, reviewed, and adored her imaginative Amazing Race-inspired young adult novel, For Real, a story that beautifully explored issues of sibling rivalry and unconditional love in an exciting, unconventional setting. I was later fortunate enough to help Alison reveal the cover of The Classy Crooks Club back in March 2015 and, having fallen in love with the premise and the adorable cover that accompanied it, was quick to add it to my to-be-read list. Thankfully, I can report that I was not remotely disappointed in Cherry’s first foray into middle grade fiction. A candy-coated treat with a rich, satisfying center, The Classy Crooks Club is an irresistible adventure that will have readers frantically turning the pages until the very end.
It’s really late by the time Grandma Jo’s friends go home, and I should be falling asleep on my feet. But I lie awake most of the night, hugging Hector the armadillo and mulling over everything I’ve learned tonight. My grandmother is a crook. All my grandmother’s friends, including sweet blue-haired Betty, are crooks. Classy crooks, but still. I am about to become a crook.
Twelve-year-old AJ is a comic book-reading, soccer-playing, skateboard-riding delight. A girl who eschews the stuffy formality of her full name – Annemarie – and the fussy fripperies her Grandma Josephine considers the trappings of a ‘proper young lady’, AJ is a modern heroine whose characterization subtly and eloquently challenges traditional notions of femininity and womanhood. AJ picks locks, scrapes her knees, and learns that she likes to wear dresses, too. Brave, bold, adventurous, and athletic, AJ’s characteristics are never presented as gender-specific qualities or a inferior approximation of masculinity, but rather a genuine, unapologetic expression of her true self. Despite the outlandish situation in which she finds herself, AJ also remains an extraordinarily relatable character whose struggle to determine and stand up for what is ‘right’, no matter how difficult, is sure to resonate with readers of all ages. Cherry emphasizes the importance of the courage of one’s convictions as AJ is forced to weigh the newfound friendship and acceptance she has found with the flawed but well-intentioned ladies of the club against the ethical complexities of their actions, ultimately underlining the consequences, both good and bad, inherent in the choices we make.
I know I shouldn’t feel excited about the prospect of breaking into someone’s house, but I can’t help it – I do. And I like the way Cookie calls what we’re doing “a project”. It makes me feel like I’m learning a skill for school, totally normal and aboveboard. I hope my parents and Ben never find out what a delinquent I’ve become.
Part madcap caper, part puzzling mystery, and part coming of age contemporary, The Classy Crooks Club is is multifaceted story that offers a little something for every reader. Young or reluctant readers will enjoy the hair-raising, fast-paced adventure on which AJ unexpectedly finds herself. Where The Classy Crooks Club arguably shines best, however, is in its subtle and astute dissection of interpersonal relationships which discerning readers are sure to appreciate. When AJ forms an unexpected connection with resident ‘mean-girl’, Brianna, fissures begin to appear in her relationship with her best friend, Maddie, who worries that the two are growing apart and AJ no longer has time for her. This, coupled with AJ’s inability to confide in Maddie about her recent heist high jinks because she has been sworn to secrecy, put their longtime friendship in jeopardy. Cherry explores the complications and complexities of adolescent friendship, delving deeply into the fears, insecurities and growing pains experienced by all parties involved. In doing so, the author never resorts to two-dimensional stereotypes or rigid binaries of ‘good vs. evil’, but rather reveals that much like Grandma Josephine’s ‘bridge club’, there is often more to life and its players than initially meets the eye. From taxidermy to lock-picking, no detail is too small to escape Cherry’s notice, and the author’s meticulous research is evident on every page. World-building in a contemporary novel is no less important and Alison Cherry creates not simply a forgettable, soporific backdrop against which the action takes place, but a realistic, three-dimensional world rich with detail that feels tangible and true.
The grannies go back to their planning, and I spend the rest of the day at the table with my plate of forgotten pie, poking and prodding at the insides of the locks. It’s funny – lock picking involves the same kinds of repetitive, small, precise motions as sewing, but this doesn’t bore me at all. It’s like a puzzle, and every time I make one of the tiny pins click into place, I feel a rush of joy. This is going to take a lot of practice, but I know I’ll put in the work. What’s the use of being a thief unless I’m the best thief I can be? After all, a lady strives for perfection.
A merry, imaginative story about the most unexpected of criminals with a heartfelt reflection on the trials and triumphs of friendship and the ethical intricacies and moral dilemmas we face everyday, Alison Cherry’s first foray into the middle grade market does not disappoint. The Classy Crooks Club is a book I would not hesitate to recommend to readers of all ages and I eagerly look forward to what the author will write next. Readers will be thoroughly charmed by this fun, frolicking romp that is sure to steal their hearts.
Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advanced reader copy and therefore might be subject to change....more