"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

15 October 2018

Bloom


Panetta, Kevin. Bloom. First Second, 2019.

Ari has just finished high school and is excited to move to the big city with his band and pursue his love of music, but his family is insisting that he stay home and help run the bakery in the hopes that they will not have to close it down. Ari finds Hector to replace him at the bakery. Hector is in culinary school and loves to bake, and Ari finds himself drawn to Hector. But what about the band and Ari's musical pursuits?

This is a lovely graphic novel love story that is perfect for teens still searching for their place in the world. Ari isn't sure what he wants to do with himself, but he is definitely sure he doesn't want to bake. Maybe. Probably. The blue palette used for the panels is appropriate for the wistful tone of most of the story and helps to keep the focus on the characters and their relationship. Ari's love for Hector is beautiful, especially considering that it happens organically in the tale and that this isn't a coming out story, but rather a love story where the two main characters are male. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

12 October 2018

The Whispers


Howard, Greg. The Whispers. G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR, 2019.

Riley believes in the old tales of the Whispers, forest creatures who can grant wishes if you bring them tribute. He also thinks they know what happened to his mama and how he can take care of what he refers to as his "other problem," aka his crush on an older boy. But he's having difficulty convincing anyone else that the Whispers are real.

This is a whimsical story of a boy who still believes in miracles and fairy creatures, but who is also struggling with a family with a missing member and who hasn't yet come out to anyone and is relentlessly teased. This mashup of contemporary fiction and fantasy makes for a few awkwardly written transitions between the two, and Riley's inner monologue doesn't always read true for a junior high student. Nonetheless, the fantasy element will draw readers in, particularly those who have enjoyed fairy tales in the past.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: some homophobic commentary from Riley's classmates
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

10 October 2018

Kiss Number 8


Venable, Colleen AF. Kiss Number 8. First Second, 2019.

Amanda's first seven experiences with kissing haven't sold her on it being a wonderful idea, but her friends seem obsessed with it, and she is determined to find out what's so exciting about it. Her eighth kiss involves another girl and sets in motion the possibility that maybe she likes girls and not boys and maybe that's why kissing hasn't worked for her so far. Her family is holding back some secrets as well, and Amanda is determined to get to the bottom of that just as she is set on hiding her newfound crush from her family.

This is a fairly typical coming-out style story, with appropriate characterization for Amanda's teenage friends. LGBTQ+ representation is very important in all aspects of literature, including graphic novels, so I would readily purchase this book for my library's shelves, although I am not certain that it would circulate well.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, underage drug and alcohol use
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

08 October 2018

Toxic


Kang, Lydia. Toxic. Entangled Teen, 2018.

Hana has been hidden on a bioship her entire life. She is not allowed to leave her room, which her mother arranged to have hidden even from the ship's map. No one really knows she's there. But her ship is dying, and when a crew comes aboard to observe the slow death of the ship, Hana decides she wants to live.

This is a good book for fans of Across the Universe or other epic science fiction stories that focus more on the characters and their relationships than on the exploration or science aspects. It would also be easy to recommend this book to teens who enjoy John Green's stories, because these may have a different setting, but the plot is still quite similar.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

05 October 2018

Crush


Chmakova, Svetlana. Crush. JY, 2018.

Following up where Awkward and Brave left off, Crush follows Jorge, a quiet guy who is known as the sheriff in school because he uses his size to help others. He has a crush on a friend but doesn't know how to tell her. Will he be able to ask her out to the school dance? And how will his other friends react?

There's a lot to like in this continuation of the series: tons of diversity in the student body and staff at the school, good life lessons, plenty of teen drama. The brightly colored illustrations match the overall happy and hopeful tone of the story. This book is sure to be popular with graphic novel fans. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens and tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

03 October 2018

Five Feet Apart






Lippincott, Rachael. Five Feet Apart. Simon Schuster BYR, 2018.

Stella is in the hospital hoping for a lung transplant that will extend her lifespan, which has been shortened by her cystic fibrosis. She is creating an app for people with chronic conditions, to help them manage their medications and other treatments. Will, on the other hand, is fed up with treatments, hospitals, and the way his mom brings him from location to location to try every new experimental treatment in the hope that someone will cure him. As they both have CF, they are never supposed to be closer than six feet apart. Stella's organization clashes with Will's rule-breaking until they discover they are perfect for each other.

If you enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars or other books about teens with life-threatening illnesses, this is the perfect book for you. Stella's and Will's personality clashes are hilariously entertaining as the reader gets to watch each of them frustrate and be frustrated by the other one. The storyline is a pretty typical one for this type of story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love but can't be together, boy and girl make unwise choices because LOVE, etc. etc.

This book wasn't necessarily my cup of tea, but I can definitely see it being popular with teens in the library, especially as the movie is slated to come out at the same time as the book. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: some language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Everything, Everything; The Fault in Our Stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

01 October 2018

Gone Rogue


Meyer, Marissa. Gone Rogue. Feiwel & Friends, 2018.

Iko is trying to find Alpha Lysander Steele, the leader of a gang of genetically engineered wolf hybrids who are demanding that Queen Linh Cinder restore them to their pre-engineered state. They are threatening war if their demands are not heard. Meanwhile, Linh Cinder has decided to abdicate the throne and turn the ruling of Luna over to a leader who will be voted into office. Things come to a head when Cinder visits Earth and the wolf hybrids make their demands in a more public manner.

This is a fantastic graphic novel that falls right in line with the previous installment and ties in nicely with the Lunar Chronicles novel series. It is possible to read this book and enjoy it without having read the Lunar Chronicles, but it's even better if one has read that series and knows the back stories of each of the characters. The steel-toned pages are perfect for this science fiction tale, and there are plenty of perfect subplots (Iko being judged for being an android, for example) that are easily interwoven into the overarching plot. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel, Plutona by Jeff Lemire

28 September 2018

Girl Made of Stars


TW: discussions of rape and childhood sexual assault

Blake, Ashley Herring. Girl Made of Stars. HMH BYR, 2018.

Mara and Owen are twins, and Mara is also close friends with Hannah, Owen's girlfriend. So when Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara isn't sure what to do. She doesn't know whom to believe and isn't sure how to react, and it's bringing up memories she had tried to quash.

As a childhood assault survivor, I nearly didn't read this book, not because I didn't think it would be well-written or well handled, but because I wasn't sure if it would be triggering. Mara was assaulted at the end of eighth grade by one of her teachers, and she doesn't tell anyone about it, and then her brother is accused of rape and her family is all rallying around him and her school is rallying around him and no one is standing up for Hannah, and Mara ends up in a sort of tailspin. This is a good book, and a realistic book, in that Owen is never actually brought to trial or formally charged or given any sort of punishment for what he did, and in fact his family doesn't really acknowledge that he did anything wrong.

I am glad for this book's discussion of rape that occurs within a relationship and how difficult it can be for the survivor to be believed since they already had a sexual relationship with the rapist, how it becomes a "he said, she said" situation, etc. etc. I am glad for the Speak-esque plot for Mara, who finally finds the courage to tell others what happened to her. This is a good book, and a necessary book, and the story was handled with the delicateness appropriate for the topic. For survivors, the flashback scenes are in italics, so it would be easy enough to skip over them if you'd like. The assault scene is fairly descriptive and frightening as is appropriate for an eighth grader being assaulted by an adult man.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: descriptions of assault, discussion of rape, slut-shaming,
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Speak, All the Rage, Learning to Breathe

26 September 2018

The Confectioner's Guild



Luana, Claire. The Confectioner's Guild. Live Edge Publishing, 2018.

Wren is an orphan who has been working in a bakery since the baker discovered her using a leftover piping bag to decorate a snowbank. She prefers her job over a life in the streets, until one day when a guild member whisks her away from her bakery and informs her that her bakery skills are actually imbuing her treats with magic and that she must be trained. Immediately after learning this, the head of her guild dies and Wren is accused of his murder. Now she has one month to find the actual murderer and clear her name.

This description made this book sound like it was right up my alley. I love fantasy stories and mysteries, and having recently read Changeling, thought this would be a great read-alike. Unfortunately, I was sadly disappointed. This book reads like a story for children or tweens, but multiple uses of the word "ass," as well as sexual encounters, make this a book for teens. Further, the main character spends most of her time ogling one of her fellow bakers, so there are long descriptions of his hair, his abs, what he looks like without a shirt, how sad she is when he puts a shirt on, etc. etc. And he's not the only character she pines after. All of this is to say that this book is best categorized as a teen romance novel, which is perfectly fine, but it is not a tween book nor a fantasy nor really a mystery at all, and readers looking for those things will be disappointed. I would recommend this book to fans of romance novels but not to those who prefer fantasy or mystery without a romantic subplot.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: multiple uses of the word "ass," underage alcohol consumption (although as this is a fantasy, I don't know that it's illegal per se), off-page sex
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

24 September 2018

Changeling


Harper, Molly. Changeling. INscribe Digital, 2018.

Cassandra Reed is a new student at Miss Castwells, a finishing school and magic school for young ladies of high society. Before she came to Miss Castwells, though, she was Sarah, a non-magical snipe who was fated to serve her benefactors for the rest of her life. Because she has magic, though, Sarah has become Cassandra and must learn quickly to act and speak as a person of high parentage. She soon finds, though, that things are much more complicated than they seem.

It is very rare for me to begin reading a book and then discover that I like it so much I want to slow down so I can savor the story. This is one of those books. Cassandra has to navigate the social game of teen girls, which is complicated enough, but is also hiding the secret of her true family. Also, she's trying to learn magic. And she's become a Translator, a rare person chosen by an ancient tome to be one who can translate the text so that the information can benefit society, so now she's even more in the public eye than ever. This story was filled with court intrigue, magic, villains, love letters, action scenes, a jealous older sister - it's got a little bit of everything a person could want in a story. I'm glad to see that it's only the first in the series, because I am excited to read the second one when it comes out. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: minor fantasy violence (a zombie-like creature chases a character, etc.)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purpose of review.

21 September 2018

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas


Pyros, Andrea. Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas. Capstone, 2019.

Josephine is the less popular of the twins, and she's already reeling from her parents' divorce and trying to navigate the halls of middle school when her mom tells her that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer. Josephine doesn't want to stand out at school, so she tries not to tell anyone, but then her brother, in a show of support, dyes his hair bright pink, and Josephine finds she cannot hide any longer.

This was a great idea for a book, but it ended super abruptly. There were lots of threads of the story that were picked up and then dropped. It reads more like a book for middle grade students (3rd-4th grade), but the main characters are twelve and have crushes and go to boy/girl parties, etc. etc, which makes it hard to place this book in the library.

I wasn't sure why the idea of the principal complaining about Josephine's brother's pink hair was placed in the story when it wasn't fleshed out more later on. The whole football team could have gotten their hair dyed, or Josephine's friends could have done it, or many people from the school or something. It seemed like a major plot point, but then it disappeared, along with most of the details of the mom's cancer and treatments, recovery, etc. The dad wasn't very well rounded, either; readers are told that he is fairly irresponsible and childish, but that's all we get.

I think this book would have benefited with more length to tie up the loose ends of the story or with editing to take away the unnecessary subplots (the dad being a giant child, the boy/girl party not actually involving any risque activity, the outlawing pink hair at the school thing, etc. etc.). I like the idea of this book, but it failed on the execution.

Recommended for: middle grade and tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

19 September 2018

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise


Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt, 2019.

Coyote and her father, Rodeo, are traveling the country in a school bus that has been redesigned inside to be a motor home. They don't talk about their past and they don't intend to return to their hometown. But when Coyote discovers that something precious to her is in danger of being destroyed, she schemes to get herself, the bus, and her father back home in time to save it. Along the way they pick up some passengers, including a young violinist, a teen runaway, and a blue-eyed goat.

This book was immensely readable and entertaining as well as heartwarming. Coyote's love of reading is apparent throughout the story, so readers will walk away with a decent list of books to read next. The story does read a bit like a fairy tale or an after school special in that everything wraps up neatly at the end, but this is not a negative factor for middle grade or tween literature at all. 

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: None
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: This Would Make a Great Story Someday,  The Someday Birds, Ashes to Asheville

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

17 September 2018

The Priory of the Orange Tree


Shannon, Samantha. The Priory of the Orange Tree. Bloomsbury, 2019.

There are four storylines in this book which intertwine:
  • Tane: a Seiikinese orphan drafted into the Houses of Learning as a child to train for the High Sea Guard in the East.
  • Doctor Niclays Roos: an anatomist and alchemist whose current residence is in the East after being banished by Queen Sabran of Inys in the West.
  • Ead Duryan: a sorceress of the Orange Tree posing as an Ordinary Chamberer in the Upper Household of Queen Sabran of Inys.
  • Loth Beck: Heir apparent to the wealthy northern province of the Leas in Inys. He is a close friend to Queen Sabran.
Obviously there is a large cast of characters and some new vocabulary to master, but this is typical of most epic fantasy stories, so those who enjoy that type of story should not be surprised. Similar to the grandfather's description of The Princess Bride at the start of the movie with the same name, this book includes adventure, sword fights, miracles, true love, ... and dragons.

This is quite a long story, but that doesn't lessen its impact at all. I enjoyed the fact that I could read so much of this book and still know I had many more pages to go. The story makes full use of its length to build the world and develop the characters as well as move the plot along. I am glad for the diversity of characters, which is a welcome change after so many whitewashed fantasy stories. Those who enjoy epic fantasies will be able to savor this one for a long time. I echo what many others have said about reading carefully for the first 100 pages or so and referring often to the character list and glossary; you'll thank me later.

Recommended for: adults who enjoy epic fantasy
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Read-Alikes: Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Seveneves (even though it's science fiction)

I received a complimentary ARC of this book through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

14 September 2018

Words We Don't Say


Reilly, K.J. Words We Don't Say. Disney-Hyperion, 2018

Joel doesn't talk anymore. He drafts text messages that he never sends, but just spends his time keeping his head down and not getting involved with anything. During his mandatory soup kitchen volunteer time, he gets to know some of his classmates as well as some of the guests at the soup kitchen and then learns about how the world is bigger than his problems.

I think there is a reader somewhere for this book, but I am not that person. The book starts off in the middle of a shift at the soup kitchen, and it takes a very long time to figure out what's going on. Joel may not talk much to other people, but he rambles a lot in his head, and the majority of this book focuses on his internal monologue. As such, it takes a long time to get to know the other characters. It's also not a compelling, page-turning read. I would give this book to strong readers who enjoy books that are more character study than plot.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: occasional language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

12 September 2018

The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare


Bethell, Zillah. The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare. Feiwel Friends, 2018.

Auden Dare can't see color, but that's the least of his worries. His world is in the midst of the Water Wars, and his father is away fighting against the enemy over the small amount of water left on the planet. Auden and his mom move into his late uncle's home, and Auden uncovers a mystery there. He's certain this mystery will lead to his uncle's experiments to help Auden see color, but perhaps there are bigger things at stake.

This book started very, very slowly, without much of the explanatory world-building that happens in a story set in a world so different from our own. Auden's voice wavers between sounding like a child and sounding like an adult reminiscing about childhood, so it was hard to discern whether he sounds right for his age. The end of the book certainly picks up its pace and becomes very readable and interesting; it's just disappointing that the first third of the book is such a slog, because many readers will abandon a book if it isn't interesting early enough. The whole issue with Auden being colorblind has led some to say this is a great read alike for The Giver, but it isn't remotely the same kind of story, so I don't think that's an accurate suggestion. I would give this book to kids who enjoyed The War that Saved My Life or possibly the HiLo graphic novels, but I would likely read the first third of the book aloud together until it gets to the interesting parts so that the child would be compelled to finish the story.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: some intense action scenes
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

10 September 2018

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens


Nijkamp, Marieke. Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

This is a collection of #ownvoices stories featuring teens with various disabilities. The stories are intersectional as well, featuring queer teens, teens of color, etc. etc. The stories span a wide variety of genres, lengths, and styles. Highly recommended addition to most public and high school libraries.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read Alikes: All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages; A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

07 September 2018

Love, Penelope


Rocklin, Joanne. Love, Penelope. Amulet Books, 2018.

Penelope loves her moms, writing in her journal, spending time with her friends, and the Golden State Warriors. When she finds out one of her moms is pregnant, she starts keeping a journal so she can tell her new sibling everything about life in her house. When a school project prompts Penelope to tell a bit of a lie to her teacher, the only person she feels safe sharing that secret with is her new sibling.

This is a fairly tame, nearly slice-of-life story, as it follows most of a school year and nearly all of the baby's developmental milestones. Penelope's choice to call the baby "you" throughout her letters is a bit unwieldy but nonetheless appropriate for a fifth grader. She and her friends face some bullying and poor decision making by the adults around them, but overall the book is cute and sweet and harmless. I will admit that I cried during the June 26, 2015 entry, but they were tears of joy (like they were on June 26, 2015).





This is a good book to give to kids who enjoy sports. If you, like me, skip over the Quidditch scenes in Harry Potter, then this book will be problematic because there are lots of descriptions of basketball games and basketball players, etc.

Recommended for: middle grade and tweens
Red Flags: one adult character smokes - the cigarette smell plays a small role in several scenes in the story; the smoking character is also homophobic and racist, and although he doesn't use any words that I wouldn't use in front of children, he encourages one character not to spend time with her friends because of his racism and homophobia
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Drum Roll, Please; Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World; My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer

05 September 2018

Alan Cole is Not a Coward


Bell, Eric. Alan Cole is Not a Coward. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.

Alan's older brother Nathan torments him constantly, so when Nathan comes up with another CvC (Cole versus Cole), Alan has to agree to go along. Each brother has a list of seven tasks and one week in which to complete them. If Alan doesn't agree to do this, Nathan will tell the whole school that Alan has a crush ... on a boy.

To be honest I really, really didn't like this book at the beginning. The brother is just SO cruel, and forcing a middle schooler to compete in this brother vs brother thing or face being outed is just over the top. To make matters worse, Alan and Nathan's father is extremely unkind to his children. He calls Alan "goldfish" because he's forgettable and unimportant and Nathan "pig" because he's messy. He rules over their house with an iron fist, and regardless of what we find out at the end, this makes for a rough beginning of the story.

The middle of the book shows Alan trying to finish his tasks, eventually learning a few things and developing a backbone, and finally we get the *big reveal* where we find out everything that caused this family to be such a mess (which I won't discuss here because spoilers). So there's a reason the father is a cruel heartless dictator and a reason Nathan is following in his footsteps. It does have a happy-adjacent ending, but wow the beginning of this book is rough. I think this is one I would recommend as a "read together" book instead of an independent reading book.

Recommended for: tweens and their grown-ups
Red Flags: bullying, emotional abuse
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt; Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

03 September 2018

The Incredible Magic of Being


Erskine, Kathryn. The Incredible Magic of Being. Scholastic Press, 2017.

Julian and his family have moved to a remote lake town in order to recover from some stressors in their lives. Julian's mom used to be a doctor, but one of her infant patients died on her watch, so she's taking a break from that to homeschool Julian (who has health issues which remain unidentified until nearly the end of the book) and to work on their new Bed and Breakfast. But their grumpy next door neighbor's lawyer spoils everything when he says that their addition blocks the neighbor's view of the lake and must be taken down. Julian takes it upon himself to befriend the neighbor and convince him to let them keep the addition.

This is an unusual story for a few reasons. First, Julian is described as different or fragile - his mom certainly treats him that way - but it isn't until very near the end of the book that we find out what makes him that way, and even then it is glossed over. Second, this book walks the tightrope between realism and magical realism, mostly tied up with Julian's "uni-sense," with which he thinks he can sense the universe. Other than that, there are parents who argue, an older sister with a teenage-sized attitude, and a grumpy neighbor that Julian is sure will be his friend.

Recommended for: middle grade (Julian is 9-10 in this story, so most kids older than that will not be interested)
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

31 August 2018

The Strangers


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Strangers. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019.

Chess, Emma, and Finn come home from school to find their mother staring at her laptop, where there is a news recording of three children in Arizona who have been kidnapped. Three children who have the exact same first and middle names as they do and who share their birthdays. The next day their mother has to leave town for work, and the trio stumble into a mystery that has them looking for clues, breaking secret codes, and traveling to other worlds.

I remember reading and loving Haddix's Hidden Children series as well as her book Running Out of Time. I was very excited, then, to receive a digital ARC of this book to review. Similar to Haddix's other books, this book is filled with lots of action and adventure to help keep kids reading and turning the pages. Unlike many of her other works, though, this one has a rather slow build. There is a lot of explanation and a lot of description of the kids sitting around trying to figure things out. If you have read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you'll remember the 100+ pages when Harry and Hermione (and sometimes Ron) are camping - they move from place to place and keep trying to figure things out, but there isn't much action in that section of the book. It's the same in this book for the first 75% or so.

It's a very slow build up, which makes it quite different from many other of Haddix's shorter, compelling stories. Because of this, I wouldn't give this book to a reluctant or struggling reader, but I would give it to a child who enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time, and I would give it to a child who had read all of Haddix's other works and was looking for a new book to read. The story is interesting, but not compelling. It's a solid clean read, though, so keep it on your shelves for patrons who want books without violence or language.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: mild peril
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Book Scavenger, What We Found In the Sofa and How It Saved the World, A Wrinkle in Time

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

29 August 2018

Love & Other Curses


Ford, Michael Thomas. Love & Other Curses. HarperCollins, 2019.

Sam's family is under a curse. Every person in his family who falls in love before the age of 17 sees their loved one die. This has happened as far back as anyone in the family can remember. So of course Sam is trying to do everything to stay away from romance for at least a few more weeks. This shouldn't be a problem for the openly gay teen in a small coastal tourist town, until Tom comes into town. And with Tom comes a boatload of trouble for Sam.

There's a lot to unpack in this story. There is the idea of a generational curse, similar to that in Louis Sachar's Holes, along with Sam's family's belief in the supernatural. Additionally, Sam has been sneaking out to spend time at a gay bar (which he isn't legally old enough to do), and while there he spends most of his time backstage assisting the drag queens. On top of all of that, Sam finds out that Tom is transgender and Tom's family is not supportive, deadnaming him and using female pronouns in reference to him. Furthermore, Tom is straight, so even though Sam is attracted to him, it isn't reciprocated.

The overall story arc is interesting enough. Sam's supportive family is a wonderful relief to read about in contrast to Tom's family. The issues Tom has with his family - wearing makeup and feminine clothing around them and hearing them say that obviously he would like those things now that he's tried them, them making references to his need to grow his hair out and allowing him to spend time with Sam under the guise that they are dating - ring true as I am married to a transgender man and witnessed these very types of things when we were dating.

Sam's inability to use consistent pronouns with the drag queens is irritating beyond belief, especially once he is informed that female pronouns are always okay, but male pronouns are only okay when a queen is out of drag. That, combined, with Sam's consistent use of male pronouns for Tom make things weird when he's around the queens and changes pronouns mid-thought or mid-sentence. This is one of those sad books about transgender teens who don't get support at home, and Tom does not get his happily ever after ending, and indeed falls prey to the "transgender person must harm themselves or be attacked or something" plot line that is so overused. Apart from these flaws, the story is a good one.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: misgendering and deadnaming of Tom and the drag queens, drug use and alcohol use, Tom and Sam fight and through homophobic and transphobic slurs at each other.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Holes, Drag Teen, What If It's Us

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

27 August 2018

All the Things That Could Go Wrong


Foster, Stewart. All the Things that Could Go Wrong. Little, Brown BYR 2018.

Alex has OCD which is seriously affecting his ability to do his schoolwork and interact with his classmates. Dan's older brother has been incarcerated, and Dan's so angry about this that he attacks and bullies Alex. The two boys are forced to spend time together when their moms, who are friends, decide they could each use a friend.

Let's start with the characters before moving into a traditional review. Alex has OCD, but he is not on any medication or seeing a therapist with any regularity. His parents worry about the expense of a therapist, which is understandable, but Alex's OCD is problematic, causing him to be frequently late for school and damaging his hands and his school supplies from multiple washings. It also appears that his teachers are indifferent or ignorant of his condition.

Dan is set up as a secondary protagonist, and the reader is supposed to sympathize with him because his older brother is in juvenile detention for stealing a car and robbing a store. Dan bullies Alex because Dan hangs out with bullies at school, bullies who aren't really friends to him, either. While Dan is a fully fleshed-out character in this story, the other bullies - the Georges and Sophia - are just random evil flat characters.

The whole point of this book is clearly to make a person feel empathy for a bully and to understand that bullies have back stories and things going on in their lives that cause them to bully. However, the worst of the lot - Sophia - is not given a story. All we ever see her do is instigate trouble with Dan, with Alex, and with others.

All in all, this is an easy enough story to read, although I think that since Alex's OCD was diagnosed it would have been more realistic for him to have some more support for it, and the story's very didactic feel may turn off the very readers it was intended for. The two main characters are well-rounded, but all of the rest fade into the background, which only adds to the didactic feel of this story.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: lots of bullying - Alex has his head stuck in a toilet, for example, which is horrifying for a neurotypical person but traumatic for a person with OCD
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read Instead: You Go First, The Losers Club, Absolutely Almost

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

24 August 2018

The Meaning of Birds


Brown, Jaye Robin. The Meaning of Birds. HarperCollins, 2018.

Jess and Vivi were inseparable for more than two years. Jess felt like Vivi completed her, understood her, helped calm the rage of anger that so frequently spilled over before. But now Vivi is dead, and Jess isn't sure what to do anymore. Her rages and fights at school land her in an alternative school for a month; her mother is hoping she will use this time to work through her grief and find her own way.

This is a lovely book about grieving the loss of a loved one. It is not a happy book, but it is a good one and a necessary one, particularly because of the amazingly queer cast of characters. Jess is a lesbian; Vivi never self-identifies but reads as pansexual; Jess's best friend is asexual; a classmate at the alternative school is a straight guy who is dating a transgender girl and he takes a lot of flack for it but loves her anyway. Jess's grief reads as genuine. She spirals in and out of rages; she loses interest in her activities from before Vivi's death; she loses touch with her friends. Numerous people figure she should be "over it" by now, as if grief somehow has a deadline.

I also appreciated the discussion of alternative education opportunities - internships, etc. - for those who may not be interested in attending college. Jess becomes interested in blacksmithing, which is fascinating and different and not something you'd see at most traditional colleges or universities. With the student loan debt situation and job situation we have in this country, it's good to remind people that there are other ways to make a living and be an adult, and not all of them require fancy degrees.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: some language; some violence particularly on Jess's part; one character grabs Jess's crotch in order to determine what kind of genitalia she has; lots of underage drinking and recreational drug use
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: We Are Okay, Summer Bird Blue, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

22 August 2018

The Lonely Dead


Henry, April. The Lonely Dead. Henry Holt & Co, 2018.

Adele can speak with the dead. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Adele can see and communicate with the dead when she is near the place their remains lie. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, Adele has been taking medication to damper the voices of the dead. But recently she stopped taking her meds, and now her former best friend is speaking to her, right over the place where her body is buried. Soon the murder is discovered, the police are looking for someone to pin the crime on, and Adele is looking like the ideal suspect.

Anyone who enjoys shows like Supernatural or X-Files where people can speak to the dead, combined with shows like Criminal Minds or Bones where there are murder investigations, would enjoy this book. The ending was completely predictable in the way many suspense/thriller endings are, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. This book focuses mainly on the action of the plot, and it is certainly a compelling story. There is not much world-building and not a ton of character development, but if you are looking for a fast-paced story, this is the one for you.

I can't speak to the use of schizophrenia as Adele's diagnosis, but I do hope some #ownvoices reviewers on Goodreads do address this issue. It is unsurprising that she was diagnosed, especially with the history of her mother and grandmother also speaking to the dead, but I don't know how an #ownvoices reviewer would see the way this issue was handled.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, attempted murder
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alike Authors: Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Nick Lake, Lucy Christopher

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

20 August 2018

The Bookshop Girl


Bishop, Sylvia. The Bookshop Girl. Peachtree Publishers, 2018.

Property Jones was abandoned in a bookshop when she was just five years old, and since then she has lived with the owners of the shop, who have raised her as their own. Their shop isn't doing well, until one day they discover that they have won a competition and stand to inherit The Great Montgomery Book Emporium! But with this new shop also comes a big mystery, and it's up to Property to get to the bottom of it.

This is a nice, clean read for middle grade students. I found the idea of a five year old being abandoned in a book shop, and then simply taken in by the family, a bit of a stretch (why didn't five year old Property know her name or who her parents were?), but the target audience for this book will not have a problem with that in the slightest. Otherwise, it's a fun, light mystery set in a bookshop and will appeal to many readers.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: None
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Book Scavenger, The Mysterious Benedict Society

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

17 August 2018

The Darkdeep


Condie, Ally. The Darkdeep. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Nico's drone is sent into the mist in an area that is prohibited. Naturally, he follows it in, and accompanied by a couple of friends as well as a frenemy, Nico discovers a mysterious island where strange and scary things are happening. The group tries to uncover the secret of the darkdeep.

This is touted as Stranger Things for kids, and that's a fairly accurate description. This is scarier than Goosebumps, but not too scary to recommend to most tweens (10-12 year olds and older). There is little backstory and scanty character development, but both of those things are sacrificed for the sake of the spooky action, which is the focus in this story. The scary, paranormal phenomena will keep kids turning pages. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: bullying, "minor peril"
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

15 August 2018

The Witch Boy


Ostertag, Molly. The Witch Boy. Scholastic, 2017.

Aster is being raised to be a shape-shifter, along with all of the other boys in his family, but he is drawn time and again to the lessons in witchcraft the girls are learning. He is teased by the other boys for wanting to do girly things, and his elders caution him not to be like his grandfather, who was into witchery and was cursed. But when boys start mysteriously disappearing, it's up to Aster and his skills in witchcraft to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this story. From a graphic novel perspective, the panels are colorful and engaging, and the color palette perfectly matches the tone of each section of the story. It's just the right amount of scary for a tween audience. The story itself is very interesting, both in concept and in pacing. There is plenty of character development and just enough world building so the reader can follow the plot. This story, though, is mostly about Aster, a boy who wants to do girl things. In the end, his desire to do girl things is accepted rather than shunned, and he finds out some surprising things about his relatives along the way. His only friend outside the family has two dads, and that is mentioned in passing throughout the story because it is shown as perfectly normal (which it is). This is a great book to give to kids who enjoy the many Rick Riordan series, Harry Potter, or any other fantasy story involving magic. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: some mild fantasy violence; witchcraft (like, lighting candles and mixing potions and all that - if your family won't read Harry Potter, you won't want to read this, either)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Iron Trial, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,

13 August 2018

After Zero


Collins, Christina. After Zero. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018.

Elise keeps tallies in her notebook - one tally mark for every one word spoken aloud. She tries her best to stay at zero every day. If she doesn't speak, then she won't make a mistake. If she doesn't speak, she won't embarrass herself or others. Ellie's silence, though, is affecting her life at school, and once her mom clues in to the fact that things are not as rosy as Ellie is making them seem, Ellie is faced with a family secret that may prove louder than her silence.

This is an #ownvoices story according to the author information in the back of the book, and I can only barely imagine the frustration of a child or teen who is dealing with selective mutism. I was glad that the author highlighted this very real struggle that some people are facing, as well as the difficulty some students have when transitioning out of a homeschool environment and into a public school. The ending isn't a Disney-esque rosy picture where everything wraps up perfectly, but it is satisfying. Well-developed characters and a measured plot make this an ideal middle grade story. Recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: bullying
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Red Pencil, The One and Only Ivan, The Benefits of Being an Octopus

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

10 August 2018

Dry


Shusterman, Neal. Dry. Simon & Schuster BYR, 2018.

California's drought has continued for years now, and when neighboring states block access to the Colorado River, suddenly everyone's water is gone. No water from the tap. No toilets. No showers. And inevitably people begin panicking. The government and the talking heads on the news assure Californians that they will be fine, that help is on the way, but it is taking a very long time for that help to arrive, and in the meantime, this crisis is bringing out the worst in people.

I lived in California for three years near the beginning of the real drought, and this story is terrifying in how true it reads. I could see things developing in a manner very similar to what is described in this book, and all I can say is that this is exactly why I no longer live in California. This is a compelling page-turning story filled with plenty of action. I can highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy survival stories or dystopian tales that focus on the creation of the dystopia rather than the "tearing down the corrupt government" a la The Hunger Games. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, violence, a character is threatened with rape on at least one occasion
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Life As We Knew It, Ashfall, Hungry

08 August 2018

This Would Make a Good Story Someday


Levy, Dana Alison. This Would Make a Good Story Someday. Delacorte Press, 2017.

Sara is all set to spend her summer with her two best friends, who together have decided to reinvent themselves before middle school. Then she finds out that her family has won a cross-country train trip, so she, her moms, her older sister and sister's boyfriend, and her younger sister are going to be on a train for practically the entire summer. Moreover, one of Sara's moms is writing a book about their trip, and Sara does NOT want every silly or funny or embarrassing thing she says or does put in this book. With her summer ruined, Sara is ready to clam up and get through the entire train ride, but she didn't expect to find friends along the way.

This book is set in the same universe as the family Fletcher stories; this story is about Frog's friend Ladybug's family, even though the narrator is the middle daughter instead of the youngest. It is a cute and fun story with plenty of hilarious moments and some parts that are sad enough that you may wish to have tissues nearby. This is a great middle grade or tween road trip story and is worth adding to every library's collection.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: none come to mind. This is a clean read.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Someday Birds, Everything I Know About You, Book Scavenger

06 August 2018

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy


"It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find myself in."

Lee, Mackenzi. The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.

Felicity Montague wants to become a doctor. Unfortunately, no one will take her seriously because she's a woman. When she discovers a childhood friend is marrying her idol, she travels to the wedding so she can beg to become a student of the famous doctor. But all is not as it seems, and soon Felicity is traveling across the continent and into Africa in pursuit of a mysterious curative substance. But will the pirates keep their word, or will pirates be pirates?

Wow, there's so much in this book that I liked; I barely know where to start. Felicity is a serious-minded girl who enjoys science and medicine and studying. She doesn't have the best social skills, despises frilly things, and isn't really interested in marrying anyone. She turns down a proposal from a man and mostly turns down another one from a woman. From the discussion in the book, I would tag Felicity as either ace or graysexual. Felicity's brother is married (of a sort, of course that wasn't legal then) to his boyfriend from the previous book in this series. So, lots of exciting queer rep.

There's also a great discussion about Felicity's childhood friend, who adores frilly dresses and is the life of the party, but who also enjoys science and spends lots of time in the company of her pet dog. Felicity scoffs at her friend's enjoyment of pink and frills, but her friend insists that it's okay to like both, and indeed it is. There's a minor discussion of religious and cultural differences as Felicity finds herself, for the first time in her life, to be the minority both in gender and in ethnicity.

All in all, this is a fantastic adventure tale featuring strong female characters (not all of them cishet white women, either), and there's plenty to be enjoyed by any reader who likes adventure stories, pirates, or dragons. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Some discussion of addiction to an illicit substance; mild piratical violence; character uses "zounds" as a cuss word, so no real offensive language
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Etiquette & Espionage

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

03 August 2018

The Silver Mask


Black, Holly. The Silver Mask. Scholastic Press, 2017.

Callum Hunt, who carries within him the soul of the most evil mage ever, is in prison while the Magisterium tries to figure out what to do with him. Master Joseph wants to turn Callum loose in the hopes that he will complete the work Constantine started. Most of the Magisterium wants to keep Callum in prison for life or possibly execute him. Callum himself isn't sure what he wants; he's certain he's not the resurrected Constantine, but that's about the only thing he's sure of.

This book picks up where the third book left off, and leaves off at a cliffhanger which sets the stage for the fifth and final book in this series. The similarities between this series and the Harry Potter series make it an excellent read-alike for tweens who enjoyed Harry Potter. This may also be a good series to start a reader on if they think Rowling's books look a bit too long or overwhelming. This is a fast-paced story that keeps the reader turning pages, and while it is certainly helpful to have read the first three books in the series, I found that I could pick this one up and get back into the story even though it has been probably a year or more since I read the third book.

It is worth mentioning that this book goes further than Rowling did by having the Dumbledore-esque character actually be gay (or at least he's a man who is interested in men; it's possible that he is bi- or pan- or something else). It was only a brief mention in passing as the character spoke with Callum, but he did say that he was in love with a man at one point.

Bottom Line: The series is good, and it's very readable. It's not my favorite series of all time, but I could easily book talk these books to tweens and entice them to give them a try.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: fantasy violence (a mostly undescribed battle scene, a few deaths and near deaths)
Overall Rating; 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

01 August 2018

Forget Me Not


Terry. Ellie. Forget Me Not. Feiwel and Friends, 2017.

Calli is in 7th grade and has started at a new school eleven times. Her mom has a habit of hooking up with a guy, dating for a brief period, then having a messy breakup where she packs everything into the car and hauls Calli to a new town to start over again. Calli also has Tourette Syndrome, and she has been warned not to explain this to her new teachers or classmates. Jinsong is Calli's neighbor and he likes her - possibly as more than a friend - but he's also student body president and very popular, so he isn't sure how/if he can stand up for her when the inevitable teasing starts.

Calli's chapters are told in verse, which makes this book a pretty fast read, and that fits with Calli's personality because she is interested in space but is also artistic. Jinsong's internal struggle between standing up for Calli at school and hiding his interest in her reads true and is perfect for this age group, too. The fact that Calli's mom hasn't taken the time to understand her condition and insists that she could just "not do it" when her tics occur rings true as well. The author states in a note at the end that she also has Tourette Syndrome, so this is an #ownvoices novel. I could see this book appealing to kids who enjoyed Wonder and also to those who like reading novels in verse. This is a much-needed addition to most library collections.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: Calli is bullied quite a bit, mostly by the stereotypical Mean Girl in the story; it turns out this person also bullied Jinsong because of his ethnicity and that moment is described as well.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Wonder, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Absolutely Almost

30 July 2018

The Losers Club


Clements, Andrew. The Losers Club. Random House, 2017.

Alec is the only sixth grader sent to the principal's office on the first day of school, and possibly the only student sent to the office for reading during class. When the principal and Alec's parents tell him he can't read during his classes, he sets up an after school club for silent reading. Hoping no one will join him and he can find some peace and quiet, he names it the Losers Club. Unfortunately for Alec, word spreads about his reading club and it becomes quite popular. Now he has to balance running a club with escaping into his beloved books.

This is an adorably cute middle grade book that is perfect for kids who love to read. It's funny, there's a great Disney-style ending, and there are plenty of good books mentioned throughout. I have only a couple of caveats:

1. Alec is far too self-aware to be a standard sixth grade student. He says things like, "Nina is Nina and Kent is Kent and I can't control anything about them; I can only control myself." This may be a true statement, but I'd be hard pressed to find an 11 year old who will self-talk that way. It's nice to see Alec model this and other positive traits, but it isn't very realistic.

2. I am a librarian, and in the end of this story Alec asks his club members to email him permission to look at their circulation records at the school library for a project. There is no way on earth that the school librarian A) keeps records like that, because that stuff gets erased unless the book is still checked out to the student and B) allows Alec access to those records. If the mystical records existed, I could see each of the kids getting their OWN record to give to Alec, but no way a librarian worth their salt is going to give patron information to a sixth grader, even a nice one like Alec.

Other than that, this is a cute, fun story that I'd recommend easily to kids who like to read or feel like they don't really fit in with their peer group.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: mild bullying, all of which is explained and apologized for by the end of the story
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Island of Dr. Libris, Book Scavenger, Ban this Book!, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

27 July 2018

Just Like Jackie


Stoddard, Lindsey. Just Like Jackie. HarperCollins, 2018.

Robinson lives with her grandfather in Vermont. She loves helping him in his auto shop after school, tapping maple trees with him to make maple syrup, and being the one to squeeze the cheese sauce into the mac'n'cheese. She's his right hand man. But Grandpa has been forgetting things and mixing up his words a lot. Robinson isn't sure what to do. She thinks she can take care of her grandfather, but who will take care of Robinson?

This book is beautiful and sweet and everything that you could want from a middle grade book. Robinson gets in trouble at school because she fights back when she's bullied, but when she and her tormentor are placed in a group together by the guidance counselor, she sees that there's more beneath the surface. Harold, who is Grandpa's assistant at the auto shop, is at home with his husband and their new baby, so Grandpa is left to run the auto shop alone when Robinson is in school. Grandpa is African American, but Robinson is biracial and very light-skinned, so they get a lot of raised eyebrows when they go out into the world. There is a satisfying, nearly Disney-esque happy ending to the story, and the scary bits aren't too scary for middle grade readers. Recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: a few instances of bullying; Robinson and her fellow groupmates say "effing" a couple of times along with other mild swears like "crap" and "suck."
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Someday Birds, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Fish in a Tree

25 July 2018

The Way the Light Bends


Jensen, Cordelia. The Way the Light Bends. Philomel Books, 2018.

Linc is the artistic sister. She loves photography, and her mind is always seeing things in motion and the way objects can capture a moment. Holly, Linc's sister who was adopted when Linc was just a baby, is the smart one. She is doing fantastically at school, is athletic, and constantly pleases their parents. Meanwhile, Linc's mom only ever seems to nag Linc and point out how she could be more like Holly if she just Tried Harder. Linc and Holly drift apart as Linc secretly applies to an elite art school and sneaks out of the house to go to classes, meanwhile trying to figure out how to convince her parents to let her pursue her dreams.

This is a novel in verse, and as such may appeal to teens who wouldn't otherwise tackle a book of this length. It reads quickly, and the poetic elements are appropriate as Linc is the narrator through the entire story. I have taught students like Linc, students who don't excel academically not because of lack of effort, but rather because their gifts lie somewhere beyond acadamia. I wasn't that surprised at the "big reveal" at the end of the story, but as I am not the target audience, I am guessing some teen readers may be surprised. I did appreciate how the reveal was treated, as well as the presence of Linc's best friend who is dating a girl. Her presence in the story is not a coming out plot or a place to discuss homophobia; rather, just like any other pair of best friends, Linc and her friend discuss break-ups and hookups and go on double dates, etc.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: one character steals his parents pot lollipops, which he and Linc then eat.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Letting Go of Gravity; You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone; The Language Inside;

23 July 2018

Damselfly


Prasad, Chandra. Damselfly. Scholastic Press, 2018.

Touted as a modern retelling of Lord of the Flies, Damselfly follows a group of private school students as their plane crashes on a remote tropical island with no civilization, no adults, etc. If you know the plot of Lord of the Flies, you know this one.

In spite of the diverse representation of characters and discussion of race issues, bullying, etc., this book fell flat for me. The story was not intense enough to match the intense situation the teens were facing. There were times when the pace slowed to a plod. The dialog didn't match with the supposed age of these teens at all; they sounded more like young middle school students than upperclassmen.

The idea of retelling Lord of the Flies in a modern setting and tackling modern issues relevant to teens by using the story is a good one, but it isn't original with Damselfly; Libba Bray's Beauty Queens does the same thing, but does it in a much better way. This set itself up to be Beauty Queens without the humor, but it didn't work for me: too many weird plot holes or inexplicable character actions. That being said, teens who like "trapped on an island" type stories may enjoy this one.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, bullying, fat-shaming, racist language, violence
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read Instead: Beauty Queens by Bray, The Island by Levez, I Am Still Alive by Marshall

20 July 2018

Was the Cat in the Hat Black?


Nel, Philip. Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Considering the recent kerfuffle over the American Library Association's choice to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award the Legacy Award, this book should be required reading for everyone who thinks they are entitled an opinion on diverse books, racism in the library world, etc.

This book is exceptionally academic and is not easy or fast reading. It does not have a conversational tone, does not propose solutions to the obvious problems in children's literature, and will not give new information to those who are already reading and studying this topic.

However, that does not remove the book's merit. It is an important book, and if the renaming of the Legacy Award was the first time you considered that children's books, even beloved classics, could be racist, this is a good jumping off point.

Recommended for: adults, particularly those who work with children and books

18 July 2018

You Go First


Kelly, Erin Entrada. You Go First. Greenwillow Books, 2018.

Charlotte lives in Pennsylvania; Ben lives in Louisiana. Both in middle school, they compete online in Scrabble games and become casual friends. Both are outcasts at their school, and the book opens with a tragedy in each of their lives: Charlotte's father has a heart attack and Ben's parents tell him they are divorcing. Both Ben and Charlotte are navigating the world of middle school and trying to survive through changing friendships, bullying, and the difficulties in their personal lives.

What I Liked: The online aspect of this book is appropriate even for middle school students. The changing friends dynamic that Charlotte deals with as her best friend finds a new friend group and leaves her hanging. Ben's careful consideration of all aspects of his campaign for student council rings true as well. The fact that at the end of the book there is hope that both Charlotte and Ben will continue to be friends with the people they've met.

What I Didn't Like: I kept expecting Ben and Charlotte to talk to each other about their respective difficulties, and although the author occasionally teased us with them talking on the phone and almost telling each other the truth, it didn't actually happen. Since this is a character-driven novel, I was hoping for more development of their friendship.

Overall, this is a story that is well-written and may appeal to middle grade students who prefer stories that are character driven rather than plot-driven. This is a book you hand quietly to a kid who is in the library on their own rather than a book you talk up in front of a large group.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: bullying of both Ben and Charlotte
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: When You Reach Me, Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, Definitely Daphne

16 July 2018

Darius the Great is Not Okay


Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great is Not Okay. Penguin, 2018.

Darius is a socially awkward Trekkie (or Trekker, if you're picky). He doesn't have a lot of friends at school and is obsessed with tea, even though he works in a Teavana-esque store that sells a lot of "tea," which is mostly sugar. Darius and his family go to Iran to visit his maternal grandparents as his grandfather is dying of a brain tumor. This will be Darius's first time in Iran, and he's nervous. His Farsi isn't nearly as good as his younger sister's, and he has been warned that his extended family will not understand his need to take medication to control his depression. While in Iran, Darius learns more about his heritage and befriends the neighbor boy; if he had stayed longer, perhaps they would have been more than friends.

Darius has a lot of hang-ups: he feels like his father doesn't approve of him because he isn't a jock and because he hasn't been able to control his medication-derived weight gain; he is frequently teased at school and his bullies even follow him to his job; he feels invisible in his own family because his little sister's big personality steals the spotlight. It's super awkward for him at first in Iran because his Farsi isn't very good and many of his relatives don't speak English super well, so he's sort of left out. Then he meets Sohrab. Sohrab is a neighbor boy about his same age, and they become friends quickly. Sohrab invites Darius to play soccer and speaks up for him when he won't speak up for himself. When his family finally leaves Iran to return to the United States, Darius is sad to be leaving Sohrab and sad to be leaving a family that feels more real to him than they had when he only knew them via Skype.

I found this book to be very readable. Darius is an awkward teenage boy, and this book reads true to that voice. He refers to his bullies as the Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy, talks about paying attention to various Iranian social cues, and relishes the time he spends watching Star Trek with his dad. Darius doesn't understand why his dad is so hard on him, and he feels like he is constantly disappointing his dad. All of these things would make this book very relatable for many teens. I love the addition of Persian culture and the trip to Iran, and for most of my patrons, this will be a window into a world they've never visited.

For those wondering about the LGBT content: Darius's father has two moms, and it's hinted in the book that Darius might be gay, although that's not something he's quite ready to process yet. His friendship with Sohrab certainly appears to be blossoming into something more before he has to return to the States.

This book definitely fits into the "awkward teen without backbone is having troubles, then grows a backbone and starts speaking for himself and standing up for himself and things are a bit better" category of books, which are ones my teen patrons love, so I can easily recommend this title.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: The bullies at Darius's school call him D-bag and a few other savory terms; the bullies in Iran mock Darius because he is uncircumcised (and they see this in the post-soccer shower room). Darius's extended family doesn't understand his need to medicate for his depression and say things like, "Just don't be so sad," which could be problematic to some readers.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Jack of Hearts (and other parts); Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel; Jaya and Rasa

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

13 July 2018

Summer Bird Blue


Bowman, Akemi Dawn. Summer Bird Blue. Simon Pulse, 2018.

Rumi and her sister Lea are inseparable, but when Lea dies in a car accident and Rumi's mother sends her to Hawaii to live with an aunt while she grieves, Rumi feels betrayed and abandoned. She is angry at the world and doesn't know what to do with herself, but with the help of her family and her aunt's neighbors, she begins to work through her grief.

I loved the diversity throughout this book. Rumi doesn't self-identify by the end, but is questioning whether she is asexual. Rumi along with all of her new friends in Hawaii are biracial. The setting of Hawaii is appropriately done along with a sprinkling of Pidgin in the book. Rumi's grief feels real in that it doesn't follow a nice, logical sequence and she reacts in ways she doesn't want to. I loved the grumpy grandfather neighbor character.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: We Are Okay, You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone, Unspeakable

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

11 July 2018

The Calculating Stars


Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Calculating Stars. 2018.

A meteorite crashes to Earth during the 1950s and obliterates Washington, D.C., killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving many more homeless and injured. The resulting steam and ash in the air sets off several years of cold weather, which will soon be followed by accelerated global warming. Elma is concerned that this is an extinction event, and she and her husband convince the fractured U.S. government to focus on colonizing the moon and Mars while there is still a chance to get off Earth. Elma served as a WASP during the second world war and would make a fantastic astronaut, be she and the other female pilots she knows are routinely passed over because of their gender. Will she be able to convince the good old boys that women would make excellent astronauts?

I was the first one to check out this book from my local library, and I finished it in less than a day, often choosing not to eat or sleep because I wanted to find out what happened. This book is set in the same general time period as Hidden Figures, so if you liked that story where "computer" refers to a woman who does math by hand and there is rampant sexism but women are fighting back, you'll love this one. If you enjoyed any of the myriad dystopian disaster books that followed on the heels of the Hunger Games (a la Life as We Knew It), then you'll enjoy this one. If you like astronauts and space and thinking about how they train and how they build the rockets and actually get them into space, you'll like this book.

With well-rounded characters, appropriate amounts of world-building, and a compelling plot, this book is highly recommended.

Recommended for: adults and teens
Red Flags: Not many as it's set in the 1950s and the characters are adults. Rampant sexism is obvious - more than one person refers to the female astronauts as "astronettes" and asks how they'll do their hair and makeup in space.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Hidden Figures, Life as We Knew It,

09 July 2018

Record of a Spaceborn Few






Chambers, Becky. Record of a Spaceborn Few. Hodder & Stoughton, 2018.


This book picks up near the end of A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and follows several different characters on board the ships of the Exodus Fleet. Reading the previous two works in the series is recommended but not required in order to enjoy this story.

This is a standard science fiction tale told from multiple viewpoints (which do eventually converge, for those who wonder), focusing on life on board the generation ship that left Earth decades ago in search of a new home for humanity. There is a lot of interaction with other sapients, some of whom look similar to humans and many who do not. If you enjoy watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, you will probably enjoy this story, as the Exodus Fleet has finished its journey and is now operating as a de facto space station.

I really enjoyed the world-building: descriptions of life in the ship and the way it is organized, the hi-jinks of the teen characters who just want off of the ship, the interactions with other sapient species, etc. While this isn't a plot-driven, action-focused page-turner, it is nonetheless highly enjoyable for its focus on character development. I found the writing compelling in spite of the lack of invasion by Borg or other such disasters. Also worth noting is the diversity within the human race: frequent use of gender neutral pronouns for persons whose gender identity is unknown as well as lack of assumptions regarding a person's sexual orientation, make this a relief and a comfort to read for those in the queer community. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: science fiction fans (teens and adults)
Red Flags: some mild action sequences; some dead bodies are seen (although we do not watch them die); teens use illicit drugs and attempt to obtain services from a sex worker (the issue here is that they are underage, not that they want sex).
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review. 

06 July 2018

Sadie


TW: childhood sexual abuse and molestation


Summers, Courtney. Sadie. Wednesday Books, 2018.

Sadie has disappeared. After raising herself and her sister in spite of her mother's drug and alcohol addictions, Sadie hits her breaking point when her mother disappears and her sister is murdered. Sadie is convinced she knows who did it, and she's on her way to find that person and get her revenge.

This book is told in the form of eight episodes of a podcast a la Serial and will likely be fantastic as an audiobook. I will agree with other reviewers that the conclusion was quite obvious to me from the beginning, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the story itself. Sadie and I have quite a lot in common - older sisters born to single parents, abused by a man who took advantage of our mothers and threatened to abuse our sisters if we told, etc. The infrequent flashbacks that Sadie experiences were not triggering to me but may be to other survivors. I enjoyed this book the way I often enjoy episodes of Criminal Minds: we may already know what the conclusion is, but it's the journey and the explanation of the motivation behind the actions, which made up the bulk of the story, that was so fascinating. This one will definitely be popular with teen patrons.

Recommended for: teens, fans of thrillers or procedural crime shows
Red Flags: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, language, sexual abuse/molestation, murder
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall, Mind Games by Kiersten White, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

04 July 2018

Black Wings Beating


London, Alex. Black Wings Beating. Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, 2018.

Kylee and Bryson lost their father when he went hunting for the infamous Ghost Eagle, a bird which could earn its captor untold riches, but which most often kills instead of being caught. Now they are working to pay off their father's debts by selling birds to those who cannot capture and tame them on their own. They head off to fulfill their father's quest, but will they be able to do what he could not do?

This is a lyrically written, character-centric story focused on a society where birds are worth more than currency. Bryson attends bird fights (similar to dog fights or cock fights), while his sister sells birds in the market and helps keep their birds trained and fed. This a richly descriptive book filled with lots of world building and character description as we learn more about both Kylee and Bryson. I loved Alex London's Proxy, so I was excited to read this newest book. Unfortunately, the story didn't hook me in the way it has with other readers. It's a good book, and I'm sure that some of my patrons will love it, but it's not for me.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes:

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.