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Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Publisher’s description

ra6Inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this novel that Andrew Smith calls “beautiful, enchanting, [and] exquisitely written” is a new classic about teenage relationships, self-acceptance—and what happens when the walls we build start coming down.

Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a raw, darkly funny, and deeply affecting story about the courage it takes to live your truth.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

releaseYou know one of my very favorite books of all time is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, right? I loved the really strange setup of that book, and when I saw that this book does something similar(ish), I was psyched. Admittedly, this setup of two narratives that seemingly have very little to do with one another will not appeal to everyone. In fact, I suspect that people who are only in it for the realistic main story will potentially skip over the shorter chapters that delve into the supernatural—though they would be remiss in making this choice.

In a dear reader letter at the beginning of this galley, Ness writes, “How do we ever, ever survive our teenage years? Every young person you meet is a walking, talking miracle.” I could not like this more. I agree with him SO HARD and think that the fact that he so obviously truly believes this sentiment is part of what makes him such a profoundly great writer. He understands those teenage years and isn’t afraid to show them in all their glory and horror. He doesn’t shy away from anything—not in any previous books, and certainly not in this new one.

The story here takes place in one day—one monumental, wonderful, awful day full of surprises both good and bad. Adam, nearly 18, lives in Frome, Washington. His dad is a minister and Adam considers himself completely under his dad’s Yoke while he still lives at home. Having homophobic, conservative parents means that Adam hides most of his true self from them. He’s gay and feels about one second away from them sending him to a conversion camp at any given point in time. But he has Angela, his very best friend, and Linus, his boyfriend whom he is trying really, really hard to give himself fully to (if only he could get over his lingering love for Enzo, his crappy ex-boyfriend). He also has a boss who sexually harasses him, a seemingly perfect older brother who is about to drop a shocking revelation on the family, and doesn’t know today is also the day he learns a secret from Angela that will throw him for a loop.

All of this is happening while the ghost of a local girl recently murdered by her meth-addicted boyfriend is carrying out her own part of the story, one that involves a giant fawn, visits to familiar places, confrontations, and an unexpected path to release. In anyone else’s hands, I would probably be left thinking, Um, okay, what is this doing here? But it’s Ness. He’s brilliant. He makes these dual but mostly unrelated narratives both work exceptionally well.

In my notes for this book, I noted a lot of passages and just wrote “YES!” or “I’m cheering!” or “OMG, I love Adam.” He is loved and supported (by his friends). He is vulnerable and feels undeserving of love. He is hurting but working through it. He is scared and confrontational. He contains multitudes. His relationship with Linus, sweet, patient, lovely Linus, is a thing of beauty. There is a lot of on the page sex and intimacy, which especially goes to prove the real difference between Linus and Enzo. There are wonderfully frank discussions of sex and sexuality between Adam and Angela, including a fantastic exchange about labels, fluidity, and the liberation that the right label can bring.

I read this book in one sitting. I didn’t want it to be over. It’s heartbreaking, beautiful, funny, odd, smart, and just truly stunning. This is easily one of my favorite reads so far in 2017. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062403193

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

Book Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal

 

line in theA Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (ISBN-13: 9780735227422 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 10/17/2017)

Gr 9 Up—Friendship, romance, obsession, and crime all get tangled up in this complicated mystery about love and lies. Angie Redmond and Jess Wong are best friends, though Jess harbors a desperate and rather obvious crush on Angie. Their relationship becomes complicated when Angie begins to date Margot, a wealthy student at a nearby boarding school. Jess, a talented artist who creates a dark, supernatural comic about a love triangle, has her doubts about Margot, who seems cruel and controlling. Margot drives a wedge between Angie and Jess, but eventually, a murder brings them back together. As the police interview all three girls, the details of the night a student is killed highlight the tension among Angie, Jess, and Margot, but do not clearly point to who may have committed the crime. Just when it seems like the truth is coming to light, the story takes another turn, forcing readers to reassess everything they think they understand. Dark, twisty, and unsettling, this book almost begs to be read in one sitting, and then instantly reread. The pace picks up in the second part, with higher tension and uncertainty propelling the story forward quickly, encouraging teens to race to the whodunit conclusion. Though the final few chapters feel rushed, they provide a satisfying—and shocking—finale to this scandalous examination of jealousy, secrets, and untrustworthy characters. VERDICT A high-interest thriller with wide appeal recommended for all collections.

Post-it Note Reviews of Elementary and Middle Grade Books

IMG_7297Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. Rather than review all of them like I usually do, especially as many are older, I’m going to steal Karen’s Post-it note review idea and share the titles with you that way. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K through 5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Clearly my old dachshund Edward Bear is also excited to get a chance to read these books, too. He liked these two so much that his tail is just a blur of happiness!

 

Descriptions of the books are from the publisher.

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The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Praised by the Horn Book as “both quiet and exhilarating,” this novel by the acclaimed poet and National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye follows Aref Al-Amri as he says goodbye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This book was awarded a 2015 Middle East Book Award, was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association, and includes extra material by the author.

Aref does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Sidi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase—but he refuses. Finally, she calls Sidi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Sidi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Sidi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Sidi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.

This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. Naomi Shihab Nye has created what Kirkus called “a warm and humorous peek at the profound and mundane details of moving from one country to another—a perfect pick for kids on the move.” Features black-and-white spot art and decorations by Betsy Peterschmidt.

 

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Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice is a thrilling story about friendship, revenge, and standing up for yourself, even when you think you’re outmatched. It’s going to be one summer these boys will never forget.

Eleven-year-old Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the best summer of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort—and with another kid who can’t fight back—the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned, in this novel about two funny and very real young heroes.

 

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Dinosaur Boy (Dinosaur Boy Series #1) by Cory Putman Oakes

Everyone knows the dinosaur gene skips a generation.

So it isn’t a complete surprise when Sawyer sprouts spikes and a tail before the start of fifth grade. After all, his grandfather was part stegosaurus.

Being a dinosaur is pretty cool, despite a sudden craving for vegetables. Except some of the kids at school aren’t too thrilled with his spikey tail — even if he covers them with tennis balls. Sawyer is relieved when a couple of the bullies mysteriously stop coming to school, until he discovers a secret more shocking than Dino DNA! The disappearing kids are in for a galactically horrible fate…and only Sawyer, with the help of his friends Elliot and Sylvia, can rescue them.

 

 

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Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks, Gita Varadarajan

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.

Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.

Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

 

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Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Gary Rosen (Illustrator)

Fans of E.B. White and Dick King-Smith will adore this heartwarming and funny animal adventure by the award-winning author of Counting by 7s

Mama has trained up her baby possums in the ways of their breed, and now it’s time for all of them—even little Appleblossom—to make their way in the world. Appleblossom knows the rules: she must never be seen during the day, and she must avoid cars, humans, and the dreaded hairies (sometimes known as dogs). Even so, Appleblossom decides to spy on a human family—and accidentally falls down their chimney! The curious Appleblossom, her faithful brothers—who launch a hilarious rescue mission—and even the little girl in the house have no idea how fascinating the big world can be. But they’re about to find out!

With dynamic illustrations, a tight-knit family, and a glimpse at the world from a charming little marsupial’s point of view, this cozy animal story is a perfect read-aloud and a classic in the making.

 

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Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

A moving middle-grade novel from the Newbery Honor author of Rules.

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives…including her own.

 

 

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Honey by Sarah Weeks

Melody has lived in Royal, Indiana, for as long as she can remember. It’s been just her and her father, and she’s been okay with that. But then she overhears him calling someone Honey — and suddenly it feels like everyone in Royal has a secret. It’s up to Melody and her best friend, Nick, to piece together the clues and discover why Honey is being hidden.

Meanwhile, a dog named Mo is new to Royal. He doesn’t remember much from when he was a puppy . . . but he keeps having dreams of a girl he is bound to meet someday. This girl, he’s sure, will change everything.

In Honey, Sarah Weeks introduces two characters — one a girl, one a dog — who are reaching back further than their memories in order to figure out where they came from and where they’re going. It’s a total treat from beginning to end.

 

 

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The Vanishing Coin (Magic Shop Series #1) by Kate Egan, Mike Lane, Eric Wight (Illustrator)
Want to see something cool?
I can make that quarter vanish.
All it takes is a little magic…

Fourth grade was supposed to be a fresh start, but Mike’s already back in the principal’s office. He’s not a bad kid. He just can’t sit still. And now, his parents won’t let him play soccer anymore; instead he has to hang out with his new neighbor Nora, who is good at everything!

Then, Mike and Nora discover the White Rabbit. It’s an odd shop—with a special secret inside. Its owner, Mr. Zerlin, is a magician, and, amazingly, he believes Mike could be a magician, too. Has Mike finally found something he’s good at?

Book Review: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Publisher’s description

ra6Fox Benwell delivers a harrowing and beautifully written novel that explores the relationship between two girls obsessed with music, the practice of corrective rape, and the risks and power of using your voice.

Neo loves music, and all she ever wanted was a life sharing this passion, on the radio. When she meets Tale, the lead singer in a local South African band, their shared love of music grows. So does their love for each other. But not everyone approves. Then Neo lands her dream job of working at a popular radio station, and she discovers that using your voice is sometimes harder than expected, and there are always consequences.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

foxHere is all I knew about this book going in: I like Fox. I like this cover. I know this book, at some point, deals with corrective rape. 

Neo lives in Khayelitsha, South Africa. She’s best friends with Janet, absolutely bonkers in love with music, and dreams of hosting her own radio program. When she goes to see Umzi Radio live at a local bar, she develops an enormous crush on Tale, the singer of one of the bands that night. She knows being in love with another girl is not something her family (or friends or community) will accept, but that doesn’t stop Neo and Tale from embarking on a lovely, passionate, and semi-secret relationship. Tale’s bandmates instantly become Neo’s friends, too, and for the first time in her life, Neo feels a real sense of acceptance and community. She starts to see a bigger world than she knew was possible for her. At one point she thinks, “There is so much more to life than school and work and dirty laundry. And I want it all.” She begins sneaking out to meet up with Tale. Her mother eventually installs a padlock on the door to try to stop her from going out (and working under the assumption that she is going out to hear music and meet up with a boy). As far as her parents are concerned, Neo’s life should be about school, grades, and good behavior. Loving music and dreaming of a life in radio is a waste of time. Her father works at the security desk  at the radio station and takes Neo along to try to prove some kind of point about the reality of working there. It backfires when Mr. Sid, the station owner, lets Neo have an unpaid internship there that eventually involves her having her own show. Though she’s had a falling out with Janet and her grades are rather terrible, everything else seems to be looking up for Neo. She’s blissfully happy with Tale, even if they can only hook up in the shadows and must hide their love. She’s terrified of being found out, but when she learns about Pride, she desperately wants to take part in the protest and celebration of the event. But her increasing boldness and determination to live her life in the open, and her message on the radio about being proud to sing your own song and loving who you love, land her in more trouble than she could have imagined. What follows is devastating, brutal, and heartbreaking.

This is a powerful, harrowing look at the desire to live an authentic life and the many ways taking that risk may be judged and punished. I am always banging on about wanting new stories, and I think this is the first YA story I’ve read that deals with corrective rape… and, I think, also the first YA book I’ve read set in South Africa (I feel like that can’t possibly be true, but I’m coming up with nothing). I felt like I was holding my breath this entire book. Benwell includes an author’s note addressing his privilege as a white Brit—how some elements of the story overlap with things from his own life and from the lives of those around him, but this is not his story. LGBTQIA+ resources are appended, too. Well-written and deeply affecting. Give this to readers who will be able to look past the bleakness and brutality to see the love and joy at the heart of the story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481477673

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

 

Book Review: Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs by Susan M. Latta

Publisher’s description

ra6Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton—the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”—earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.

Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

bold womenThis is a great book to have on display during Women’s History Month, or as part of your science display, or to have at the ready for students needing to do a biographical report on someone possibly less well known. Have a careers section in your library? Stick this face-out there. Does your school have a health careers class or track, as the high school I used to work at does? Make sure that teacher and their students know about this book. While some readers will likely read this whole thing from cover to cover, it will probably be most useful for those looking for information about one specific woman or time period. Though the biographies are brief and include pictures as well as sidebars, it’s still a lot of information to absorb. The book includes the women many have heard of, like Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and Virginia Apgar, but also includes many more that may be less well know. One chapter is dedicated to Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole, the first African American women physicians (circa 1860-ish). Others include Civil War surgeon Mary Edwards Walker; Native American (Omaha tribe) doctor Susan LaFlesche Picotte; Catherine Hamlin, a gynecologist who worked in Ethiopia from 1959 on; Edna Adan Ismail, a Somaliland pioneer in the movement to end female genital mutilation, and many more. An interesting, thorough look at the lives, careers, and achievements of these inspirational women. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781613734377

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 09/01/2017

Series: Women of Action Series

Book Review: Night Shift by Debi Gliori

Publisher’s description

ra6From beloved author and illustrator Debi Gliori (No Matter What) comes Night Shift, a groundbreaking lushly illustrated picture book based on Gliori’s own personal history with depression.Fighting dragons is one way of fighting depression. This book is another.

Through stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori provides a fascinating and absorbing portrait of depression and hope in Night Shift, a moving picture book about a young girl haunted by dragons. The young girl battles the dragons using ‘night skills': skills that give her both the ability to survive inside her own darkness and the knowledge that nothing—not even long, dark nights filled with monsters—will last forever.

Drawn from Gliori’s own experiences and struggles with depression, the book concludes with a moving author’s note explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope. Gliori hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

A brave and powerful book, give Night Shift to dragon fighters young and old, and any reader who needs to know they’re not alone.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

night shiftIf, at one point, I knew this book was coming out, I must’ve totally forgotten. I opened up the package and pulled out this book, wondering why I was getting a picture book to review. Then I started reading. And I fell in love.

 

It’s no secret that I have depression. I also know a heck of a lot of people with depression. Here at TLT, we spend a lot of time and energy talking about mental health through our Mental Health in YA Literature project. And while there are, thankfully, many YA novels that now successfully and compassionately address mental health concerns, this little book stands out as being astoundingly poignant and sincere. It is a picture book, though its audience is certainly middle grade and up. Gliori draws on her own experiences with depression to tap into the nearly unutterable despair that comes from being sucked under by an illness that takes and takes and takes. She has her protagonist chased by a dragon, the embodiment of depression. She uses the dragon to describe the fog, dread, and exhaustion of depression. The protagonist hears all the cliches people say to those of us who fight mental illness—chin up, get a grip, etc. She knows she is ill. She goes for help, but words fail her. Nothing adequately describes how she feels. Throughout the story, the dragon grows and grows, breathing fire on her, holding her tight in its clutches. She struggles to hang on, to survive herself, and eventually finds something that offers hope.

 

This small (nearly pocket-sized) book is gorgeous—from the cover to the silver feathered endpapers to every dark-hued illustration and perfectly chosen word. Just gorgeous. This gentle, hopeful, deeply affecting book shows how all-encompassing, devastating, and difficult to articulate depression can be. For those of us who battle our own dragons, this book is a delicate and empathetic reminder that we’re not alone and that, somewhere in all this darkness and fear, there is a strand of hope and a way forward. Profound in its simplicity and its honesty. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780451481733
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017

Book Review: Slider by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

ra6Competitive eating vies with family expectations in a funny, heartfelt novel for middle-grade readers by National Book Award winner Pete Hautman.

David can eat an entire sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Not bad. But he knows he can do better. In fact, he’ll have to do better: he’s going to compete in the Super Pigorino Bowl, the world’s greatest pizza-eating contest, and he has to win it, because he borrowed his mom’s credit card and accidentally spent $2,000 on it. So he really needs that prize money. Like, yesterday. As if training to be a competitive eater weren’t enough, he’s also got to keep an eye on his little brother, Mal (who, if the family believed in labels, would be labeled autistic, but they don’t, so they just label him Mal). And don’t even get started on the new weirdness going on between his two best friends, Cyn and HeyMan. Master talent Pete Hautman has cooked up a rich narrative shot through with equal parts humor and tenderness, and the result is a middle-grade novel too delicious to put down.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

slider2If you would hand me a book and tell me that it’s about a kid who is into competitive eating, I’d probably say “pass.” The whole idea of eating THAT much THAT fast makes me feel barfy. But add in, “Oh, by the way, it’s by Pete Hautman,” and I’m in. I have yet to read a book by Hautman that I don’t like. And, as I’ve said a zillion times, The Big Crunch is one of my very favorite YA books ever. Also, I’m always saying I want to see NEW things in middle grade and YA, and I definitely have not seen a story about a competitive eater before.

 

14-year-old David means to bid $20, not $2,000 for the remains of a competitive eater’s final uneaten hot dog. Now the proud owner of this bizarre memento and deeply in debt (and about to be deeply in trouble when his mother discovers he used her credit card), he works to turn his eating skills into quick cash to bail himself out. This means lots of training (during which I found myself really wanting some pizza and also never wanting to look at pizza again) and winning a few smaller contests before he can enter the big Pigorino Pizza Bowl contest at the Iowa State Fair, which comes with a cash prize of $5,000. But David can’t spend all summer just stuffing himself with food. He also watches his 10-year-old autistic brother, Mal, and learns some new ways for them to communicate with each other and ways to help Mal feel more comfortable exploring life further from home. He also hangs out with his best friends Cyn and HeyMan, though they’re being kind of strange lately. They’ve always been the Three Musketeers, but suddenly David is feeling like the odd one out. David’s also meeting a few people from the competitive eating community and figuring out more about his place in his family, where, as middle child, he’s often felt overlooked. In typical Hautman style, this book is full of humor, heart, and just enough weirdness. The unique topic of competitive eating makes this perfect for recommending to readers looking for a good story with a strong but unusual plot. Add this one to your fall book talks and be ready for it to have a waiting list. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780763690700

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: Neighborhood Girls by Jessie Ann Foley

Publisher’s description

ra6A powerful coming-of-age story about a girl whose encounters with loss, broken friendships, and newfound faith leave her forever changed, from Printz Honor winner and Morris Award Finalist Jessie Ann Foley

When Wendy Boychuck’s father, a Chicago cop, was escorted from their property in handcuffs, she knew her life would never be the same. Her father gets a years-long jail sentence, her family falls on hard times, and the whispers around their neighborhood are impossible to ignore. If that wasn’t bad enough, she gets jumped walking home from a party one night. Wendy quickly realizes that in order to survive her father’s reputation, she’ll have to make one for herself.

Then Wendy meets Kenzie Quintana—a foul-mouthed, Catholic uniform-skirt-hiking alpha—and she knows immediately that she’s found her savior. Kenzie can provide Wendy with the kind of armor a girl needs when she’s trying to outrun her father’s past. Add two more mean girls to the mix—Sapphire and Emily—and Wendy has found herself in Academy of the Sacred Heart’s most feared and revered clique. Makeover complete.

But complete is far from what Wendy feels. Instead, she faces the highs and lows of a toxic friendship, the exhaustion that comes with keeping up appearances, and a shattering loss—the only one that could hurt more than losing herself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

neighborhood girlsHigh school junior Wendy Boychuck enjoys the protection, fear, and respect that comes from being part of the most popular (and nastiest) clique in school. But Wendy also kind of hates her alleged friends and kind of hates herself for how she is with them. But, in the wake of her cop father’s arrest for torturing suspects, Wendy feels like she has no choice but to remake herself into this hardened girl who doesn’t care what others think. This means leaving behind Alexis, her smart, quiet, violin-playing best friend of nine years. Alexis knows her too well, knows she isn’t tough and hard, and Wendy can’t be reminded of anything from her past. Of course, it’s not that simple—our pasts don’t disappear or cease to matter just because we’d like it to work that way. There are constant reminders of what her father did—the family lost everything to pay for legal fees, so they now live in a small apartment (after having to foreclose on their home) and Wendy’s college savings (and tuition for her private high school) is wiped out. People still whisper about her father. Her last name still makes people raise their eyebrows. And while her friends may offer her some level of perceived protection, even Wendy starts to really realize how awful they are. She begins to pull away from them, but it’s not that simple. Queen bee Kenzie likes to be in control and doesn’t want to lose face, so Wendy finds herself pulled back to the clique. When she finally confronts them and speaks her mind, Kenzie makes it clear she will enact revenge, just as she’s done with everyone else who has crossed her. It takes a while, but things finally start to seem like they might be okay for Wendy… and then a horrific accident changes everything, again. 

 

This book is not an easy or uplifting read in any way. The bad things just keep on coming. Wendy is in a bad situation with her friends and makes a lot of bad choices while with them (or, maybe more accurately, makes no choices, just standing by, which is just as bad). The story is given great depth thanks to how fleshed out Wendy is and how much readers get to know her and see her internal struggle. Neighborhood Girls is a moving and at times frustrating look at faith, love, and forgiveness. Wendy spends a lot of time thinking about uncertain futures, painful pasts, and the terrible and sometimes wonderful present. A good choice for readers who like introspective main characters who spend too long making bad choices even when they know better. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062571854

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

ra6Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. Skating was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion—and she finally needed to find her own voice.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

spinningThere are never enough stories about girls in sports, are there? Also, I don’t know that I’ve read any story where competitive ice skating is not just part of the story but almost all of the story. There are plenty of teens who are involved in very intense, competitive, high level sports, so this book is a nice addition to YA because it represents a life many teens lead (not necessarily ice skating, of course) but we don’t often see much of.

 

This graphic memoir follows Tillie from New Jersey to Texas, where she moves after fifth grade. She hopes to be able to escape the bullying and bad grades that plagued her in New Jersey, but Texas just provides more of the same. She feels like an outsider at the skating rink, too. She doesn’t bond with the other girls and she stands out because her parents never come to any of the competitions. Tillie is driven and wants to be the best, but she also doesn’t seem to actually really enjoy skating and mostly does it because it’s routine. She gets her first girlfriend, which briefly makes her feel like at least something in her life is satisfying, but that doesn’t last, and coming out to some of the people around her doesn’t go well, either. She looks to her coaches and teachers for the affection and attention she isn’t receiving, but eventually realizes that even that is not worth sticking with skating, and she quits the summer before her senior year in high school.

 

While the subject matter is appealing and unique and the illustrations really capture Tillie’s feelings, especially her loneliness and exhaustion, the overlong story suffers from uneven pacing. Some things that could use more exploring are just sort of skipped over, missing a real opportunity for adding depth to the story. This quiet look at the pressures of competitive sports and at feeling like an outsider will appeal to teens who connect with either of those storylines. The graphic format will catch the attention of readers who may not otherwise gravitate toward this story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626729407

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 09/12/2017

Book Review: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Publisher’s description

ra6Calling all Raina Telgemeier fans! The Newbery Honor-winning author of Roller Girl is back with a heartwarming graphic novel about starting middle school, surviving your embarrassing family, and the Renaissance Faire.

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

As she did in Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson perfectly—and authentically—captures the bittersweetness of middle school life with humor, warmth, and understanding.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

alls faireWell, this graphic novel is just delightful. Imogene Vega, who has always been homeschooled, is going to attend traditional school for the first time. She’s pretty nervous—a feeling plenty of kids will be able to relate to, whether they’re new to their school or not. Imogene’s family works at the Renaissance Faire and she’s excited to finally be able to train to be a squire. But while she feels comfortable and like herself at the faire, middle school is a different story. Suddenly there are cliques, queen bees, the “right” clothes, bullies, and so much more to navigate. She falls in with a group of three girls, one of whom is extremely nasty, and while she doesn’t really have anything in common with them, they do offer some feeling of belonging. It doesn’t take Imogene long to see that fitting in may not be as satisfying as standing out.  With plenty of bumps in the road and impulsive (and bad) choices, Imogene takes a while to find her voice and figure out what version of herself to present in middle school, but when she does, watch out! Excellent artwork, quirky (in the best sense of the word) setting, and super relatable themes. An easy hit for fans of Roller Girl and fans of graphic novels in general.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525429982
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017