"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

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


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


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


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

02 July 2018

The Supervillain and Me

Banas, Danielle. The Supervillain and Me. MacMillan Children's Publishing Group, 2018.

Abby's brother is a superhero, so he is always out of the house saving the world. Her father is the mayor and is busy trying to run the city. So when a new super arrives in town and everyone says he's a supervillain, Abby has got to figure out what is going on with him. The Iron Phantom claims that the mayor is plotting something for the town, and Abby helps him solve this mystery while also trying to discover his true identity.

I have read more than a few superhero stories, and I love that they are full of action and exciting, intense plots and battles and are real page turners. If that's what you like, too, this book is not for you. If, however, you enjoy rom-coms and books that focus on relationships instead of a plot, then you will definitely enjoy this story.

This is not really a superhero story. It's a love story set in high school - complete with plenty of high school drama - that happens to also involve superheroes, just like it happens to include a bisexual character who is on stage for about five minutes before disappearing once again. If you think of this book as a contemporary romance, it's an acceptable, although not stand-out, story. For a superhero story, though, it fell short: there is a serious lack of world-building and shortage of action sequences or plots. Even the supposed plot twist is easily discoverable early on. Rather than being a page-turner, this story plodded.

If you are looking for a superhero story, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a contemporary romance, there are still better options elsewhere.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, some violence
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read Instead: Renegades by Marissa Meyer; Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

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