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Book Review: The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

Publisher’s description

From the author of The Deep & Dark Blue comes a tender graphic novel, perfect for our time, that gently explores themes of self-discovery, friendship, healing from tragedy, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

This title will be simultaneously available in hardcover.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m working on an article for School Library Journal on mental health depictions in middle grade fiction. It was not all that long ago that I would have struggled to build a large list of books that accurately and compassionately address mental health. But as I worked, I found myself having to limit my book list to the past couple of years as a way to begin to pare down the long list of books I was interested in considering. What a great problem to have. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of this book for that article and wanted to talk a little about it here, too.

To say that I was moved by this beautiful and tender look at trauma, healing, and hope is an understatement. I was reading it at my desk at school and at one point looked around at all the kids sitting around reading and, knowing how much stuff has to be going on in so many of their lives, thought, I wish you these supportive and loving relationships. I wish you this kind of healing.

Manuel, who was present when his art teacher was attacked at school, is, understandably, having a really hard time clearing his mind of what he saw. Thankfully, he is in therapy and has some pretty great grounding techniques to help when he has derealization episodes. But it’s really difficult, even with help, to not feel afraid so much of the time, to not be triggered. When he makes two new friends, he finds further comfort in their steady, understanding presence. Together, they all work on projects and their friendship grows (and with Sebastian, it’s clear that there may be more than just friendship there). They help Manuel find grounding moments and make sure he knows they are there to listen whenever he may want to talk about it and are there to be supportive and steadying no matter what.

Manuel shows that healing from trauma is not quick or linear, and that’s okay. He shows the complexity of living day-to-day life riddled with moments of extreme distress. And more than anything, Manuel shows that vulnerability doesn’t have to be scary and that there is hope and joy even in the darkest and most unsettling of times. A deeply affecting read.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316540339
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 11/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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