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Book Review: Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

Publisher’s description

For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life—including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.

Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years. 

One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?

Amanda’s thoughts

If you know anything about this book, and have been reading my recent reviews, you’re probably like, “Let me guess—she read this book for the SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction that she keeps yammering on about.” And you’re right! I did! And like all the others I’ve read for this article, I’m so glad I had a reason to pick this book up (I mean, beyond the reason of, “I’m trying to read every book ever published!” which is a project that is futile, thus sometimes I need a real concrete reason to move a book from “maybe someday” to “right now!”).

When the pocket world Kiki has created in her sketchbooks turns out to be real, and Kiki is now in it, her anxiety has to morph from “oh no, if I left the door unlocked a goose may eat my mom!” (which, honestly, was such a relatable bit of anxiety brain—I mean, maybe minus the specific of the goose) to “can I get out of my own way far enough to save everyone in this world?!” That’s a big ask for anyone, but especially for Kiki, whose anxiety likes to make her worry about everything and doubt herself all the time. And in the real world, she tries to downplay how bad she sometimes feels. Her mom certainly seems loving and receptive and would certainly work to get her help, but Kiki doesn’t want to worry her. But it turns out if you end up somehow living inside a world you drew, you start to have more forthcoming conversations about mental health. This feels right, because Kiki threw herself so thoroughly into books and art as a way to distract from her anxiety, so I love that this very art literally helps her work out what’s going on with her.

The entire quest in Mysore is full of adventure, vibrant characters, and great details. Fantasy fans, whether they are familiar with Hindu mythology or not, will love Kiki’s journey. And while there is plenty of good stuff to say about that entire journey, I want to talk a little more about the mental health rep. I love that we are seeing not only more compassionate and accurate representation in middle grade books, period, but that it’s starting to show up beyond just realistic fiction stories. Because even brave (if somewhat reluctant) warriors can have anxiety! And even people with anxiety can become brave warriors! Kiki goes from feeling like her anxiety is her fault, like if she were stronger or braver this wouldn’t be happening to her, to understanding she has an illness that is just a part of her but not all of her.

Kiki learns important lessons on her quest. It’s okay to be messy and anxious and scared. You can still fight the monster, even if it’s in your brain. You can still be in control, be master of your fate, bear your teeth at the wolf. The monsters won’t always be there. You can take back your world. You just might need a little help along the way. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Asking for help makes you an even braver warrior.

A fantastic and empowering read.

ISBN-13: 9780593206973
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Series: Kiki Kallira #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Publisher’s description

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Amanda’s thoughts

Hard to do better than this book. Rosena Fung makes it clear just how cruel, smothering, and omnipresent mental illness can be as Viola, Livy’s anxieties, tags along behind her all day, shouting a constant stream of lies and worst-case scenarios at her. Livy is trying to navigate her 6th grade life, but it’s hard when there is just so much to worry about. She finds solace in books and art, but it’s hard to keep Viola quiet, even if Livy is otherwise occupied. She’s at a new school and figuring out new friendships. She’s self-conscious about her parents’ jobs and what her home is like. She’s made to feel inferior to how her cousins are doing and what their goals are. Even her lunches aren’t “right”—other kids make fun of how they smell, making her even more self-conscious about everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere, and a lot of that is just typical middle school stuff that will probably get worked out as time goes on, but a lot of it is specifically Viola, or her anxiety. It has a special knack for trying to ruin absolutely everything and gripping onto the smallest thing and making Livy feel terrible as she fixates on it.

Hard as all that is, there is so much good that happens over the course of the story. Friend things get figured out, though there are some rocky moments, Livy learns to share pieces of her home life and her culture with her new friends, and, most importantly, Livy finally confesses all of her fears and stresses to her parents, who get her help. When she tells new friend Charlotte what’s been going on, she shrugs it off as perfectly normal—her sister is in therapy too—it’s no big deal. Livy learns coping mechanisms that will begin to keep the worst of her anxiety at bay and will ground her in hard moments. An author’s note explains how Livy’s experiences mirror so many of Fung’s while growing up.

I am so glad that not only are we seeing so many more middle grade stories that address mental health concerns, but that we’re seeing these stories presented in a variety of ways. The graphic novel format is well-suited for this story as readers will see the impact of what it’s like to have a mental illness tagging along beside your every move. Smart, empathetic, and hopeful. I loved this.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781773215488
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Characters Can Deal With Anxiety Too, a guest post by Alexandria Rose Rizik

I remember my first panic attack: I was in a movie theater. Suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath, my arm went numb, and the darkness of the theater along with the vibrations from the surround sound made me feel claustrophobic, like the walls were caving in on me. I ran to the bathroom and called my mom. I was only sixteen years old and had never experienced a panic attack like that before. So, to say the least, I didn’t know what was going on.

That was the first of many panic attacks I suffered from throughout my teen/young adult years. In a sense, when you’re dealing with anxiety, it can become your identity. I think that’s why it played such a prevalent role in my writing, specifically with this character Kendra. She reflected my sixteen-year-old self. The story was inspired by my first real relationship and the heartache that followed, so it only seemed fitting to include that element in the story. It was with this boyfriend that I had my first panic attack in the theater, which also seemed like a metaphor in a sense for the relationship.

I didn’t realize then that anxiety affects so many people—especially so many young people. Even more so, it’s on a rise. In fact, according to adda.org, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S,” and “Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.” In my opinion, that’s a pretty large percentage.

The fact that anxiety plays such a big role in the lives of teens and young people encouraged me even more to make mental health the forefront of this character’s personality. I think so many people will be able to relate to Kendra’s character and what she goes through, how she tries to manage her angst.

At first, it was really difficult to write about her anxiety because it was so personal and I was still learning how to manage it myself. How could I help a character get through her anxiety if I didn’t even know how to deal with it myself? It was also something I didn’t discuss with outsiders. At that point, I didn’t want people to know what I was dealing with so I put on a happy face and whenever the anxiety tried to creep its way out, I’d be so afraid of having a full blown panic attack in front of people. How embarrassing, I would think. No one understands. But putting the feelings down on paper actually helped me with my own anxiety.

The truth is, a lot more people deal with anxiety and mental health issues than I realized. And just like me, they want to mask it with a happy face so no one around them will know. But as time has gone on, I’ve seen the way, especially through social media, people are more open about their mental health struggles. That’s really the core of who Kendra is in 21 Questions. She’s a teenage girl who has been through a lot of trauma that leaves her with this anxiety that she’s learned to somewhat manage, but she has her triggers—one being Brock Parker. When Brock enters her life and stimulates this side of her that arouses her panic attacks, she realizes she’s been putting a bandaid on her pain and never really dealt with it head on for the sake of protecting herself and what she believes makes her an outcast from the rest of her friends and acquaintances.

Brock has his own set of mental health struggles too. They might not be as transparent Kendra’s are. But at one point he even says the reason he does drugs is because he likes the way they make him feel and “they take away all of my worries and anxieties, so that I don’t feel them.” The difference between he and Kendra is that he numbs his anxieties before he gets a chance to feel them. Which is an interesting point to address, because a lot of the time mental health and addiction go hand-in-hand. The question becomes: what came first? The chicken or the egg? Do people abuse drugs to numb their mental health issues or does drug use bring out those issues?

Both of these characters are beautifully flawed. I wanted to write about two imperfect people who despite their trauma and issues, persevered. They aren’t perfect, but they never claimed to be. I think about some of my favorite characters in literature and film and why I connected to them and what made them so relatable. They are characters who make mistakes and fail, but those failures aren’t always what define them. In fact, they are what shape them and I think that is raw and real, which is something I strive for my characters to be.

As a writer, pulling from personal experiences can be so vulnerable but it’s what creates characters that people connect with, which is the whole goal. I just want my readers to say, “wow, I felt that…I’ve been there.” Covering heavy topics like anxiety and mental health was a challenge but something I believe should be discussed more in literature especially with the rise in numbers of young people dealing with it.

Meet the author

Alexandria Rizik is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of three books, the poetry collection Words Written in the Dark, a children’s book Chocolate Milk, and her recent release and debut novel 21 Questions.

She was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was brought up by a large Armenian family. She received her bachelor of arts in English literature from Arizona State University.

Alexandria’s love for writing began when she was a young child: her aunt bought her a journal and told her to write a story in it, and the rest is history. Her favorite part about writing is being able to write the happily every after that doesn’t always happen in real life.

Besides writing, Alexandria loves yoga, wine, and family time.

About 21 Questions

In Laguna Beach, California, sixteen-year-old Kendra Dimes is preparing for the 2010 USA Surfing Prime West. She’ll be competing this year in honor of her brother, who was a surfer too, but who died from a drug overdose. Kendra has suffered anxiety attacks ever since her brother’s death, and surfing is what’s been helping her heal.

Brock Parker is the new bad boy at school; he deals drugs to the high school clientele for his parents, who work for a Mexican drug lord. Though Brock and Kendra come from two different worlds, sparks fly when they meet at the homecoming dance—their attraction is magnetic. When they start a game of 21 Questions one night, they begin to learn more about each other—and, surprisingly, about themselves too. But some questions aren’t answered with the whole truth; after all, Brock can’t tell Kendra what his parents do for a living.

As Kendra and Brock experience all of life’s most exciting firsts, they prove that even when life throws you the perfect storm, you can make it through and come out stronger than before. 21 Questions is a coming-of-age journey packed with passion and heartbreak, risk and romance.

ISBN-13: 9781684630875
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

HOW CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN EVERYWHERE BLUE, a guest post by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Music often plays a role in MG or YA novels. The music is nearly always new, whether it’s pop or rock or rap. A singer might be mentioned in the text itself, like Beyonce in FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA by Crystal Maldonado. Or the characters in a novel might audition for a Broadway musical, as in BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle, or a school musical, as in CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, by Steven Salvatore.      

        

Many novels have a playlist, a list of tunes that inspired the author, music they listened to while writing the book. Afterward, they share the playlist with fans.

My MG debut novel in verse, EVERYWHERE BLUE, takes a different approach.

Twelve-year-old Madrigal Lovato, nicknamed Maddie, loves music, math, and everything in its place. She is growing up in a musical family. Her mother teaches opera, her father is a piano tuner by day and a composer by night. There is always music in the house. And it’s always classical.

In EVERYWHERE BLUE, music represents emotions.

When Maddie’s beloved older brother, Strum, walks away from his college campus and vanishes, Maddie’s well-ordered world splinters apart. Her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum, and her sixteen-year-old sister Aria reacts by staying out late.

Maman stops humming and singing, Daddy stops playing classical records. The house falls silent.

Maddie continues to practice her oboe in her room alone. She plays the oboe in her school orchestra and music is her world. This is why I opened the book with Maddie walking to her after-school music lesson. The story begins in November, when darkness comes on early. Maddie also has seasonal affective disorder, so early darkness makes her sad. The music I mention reflects those feelings.

I tried to infuse every part of my novel with a piece of classical music, including “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Edvard Grieg, “Largo” by Antonin Dvorak, “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig Von Beethoven, and more.

I describe how the music makes Maddie feel, so even if the reader doesn’t know the piece, they’ll know just how it can affect people. Whether it’s “the most haunting music I’ve ever heard” (“Adagio for Strings”) or “the brightest, most jubilant music I know” (“Ode to Joy”), music is a metaphor for Maddie’s emotions.

Readers may not be familiar with all the classical pieces I mention in the book. But many readers should know Peter and the Wolf, a musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev. He called it a “symphonic fairy tale for children.” It teaches young people the different instruments in an orchestra, by assigning them to characters in his tale. Peter is represented by the strings, his grandfather by the bassoon, A clarinet represents the cat, a flute represents the bird. And three French horns represent the wolf.

Finally, the oboe represents a duck, because, yes, an oboe sounds a lot like the quacking of a duck.

I played the oboe in junior high school. We even performed a student version of Peter and the Wolf and I had a brief solo. It’s been a long time, but I can still remember the crushed-leaf taste of the reed.

As I wrote and revised EVERYWHERE BLUE, music became more and more important to my theme. I realized the French horns’ forbidding, ominous music in Peter and the Wolf was perfect for Maddie’s concern over her missing brother, Strum, and could also symbolize her undiagnosed anxiety.

With each revision, I drew more and more on this recurring theme. Strum’s disappearance throws the family into chaos. Maddie realizes at one point, while listening to the violins play Peter’s theme, that Strum could be Peter. And she hopes he will escape from the wolf of whatever’s troubling him. 

French horns are mentioned throughout the novel, and they’re always forbidding, until Part 4, February, when Maddie begins to feel there is hope for finding Strum. Maddie longs for more daylight, and by February, the days are becoming longer. As she listens to Ravel’s Bolero, she realizes the French horns in that piece are not at all forbidding. They don’t threaten. They rise and swell. They lift her up.

Near the end of the novel, Maddie is getting ready for the school concert. And the verse and the music are full of hope.

Music in books can be healing. Music can soothe the soul. Music, in fact, can be a form of salvation.


Meet the author

Joanne Rossmassler Fritz grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by books and music. She has worked in a publishing company, a school library, and the Children’s Department of a large independent bookstore. She’s been writing most of her life, but didn’t get serious about it until after she survived the first of two brain aneurysm ruptures in 2005. She and her husband live outside West Chester, PA, and are the parents of two grown sons.

Twitter: @JoanneRFritz

Instagram: @JoanneRossFritz

Website: https://www.joannerossmasslerfritz.com/

About Everywhere Blue

A brother’s disappearance turns one family upside down, revealing painful secrets that threaten the life they’ve always known. 

When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.

Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .

Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything—but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.

This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way. With a gorgeous narrative voice, Everywhere Blue is perfect for fans of Eventown and OCDaniel.

ISBN-13: 9780823448623
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/01/2021
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of Today Tonight Tomorrow.

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

Amanda’s thoughts

Rachel Lynn Solomon is an auto-read for me. Did you know she also wrote an adult book, too? Just as great as her YA. I’m glad she’s so prolific because I just adore her writing.

There is so much to like about this book. Newly graduated Quinn isn’t sure what she wants to do in college/for her grown-up life. But she does know she doesn’t want a future working for her family’s wedding planning company. She just doesn’t. But her parents have it all planned out for her—major in business, work for them, everything’s taken care of! And though Quinn doesn’t want that, she doesn’t know how to tell them that. She’s also worried that bailing on the business will upset the balance of their family and not give her the connection she loves having with her older sister.

One more summer of working weddings puts her back in the orbit of Tarek, son of the caterers who usually work with her parents. After she confessed her crush to him last year, he ghosted her, which is a pretty rotten move for a super romance-obsessed guy who loves grand gestures. Predictably, and thankfully (because they’re so cute together and their banter is A+), they get together, but it’s not smooth sailing. Quinn’s having a Big Summer. She’s grappling with what her future holds, how to please her family, the idea of her best friend moving across the country for college, and more. So dating her crush while simultaneously not believing in love or romance or relationships is… a lot.

The tension between Tarek and his belief that love is all about destiny and big gestures and “meant to be” stuff and Quinn and her totally cynical and guarded approach to relationships makes for an interesting story. As an adult, I read this thinking, “Quinn, come on. You’re doing all the relationship ‘stuff’ but are just too scared to call it that and feel the feelings!” But the teen stuck inside of me was like, “Yesss, Quinn, I feel you. Hide from those feelings. Blow things up yourself before you can get hurt or disappoint someone!” Especially because Quinn has anxiety and that good ol’ anxiety brain loves to churn everything around until everything seems fraught with peril and sure to implode.

Tarek and Quinn’s relationship has lots of ups and downs, which, again, feels so realistic and makes for a great read. They go from surface level friendship to a deeper and true friendship to so much more.

I also love how mental health is dealt with in this story. Quinn has OCD and generalized anxiety. Tarek has depression. They talk openly about medication, therapy, being diagnosed, the hard days, symptoms, and getting better. We love to see it!

Full of humor and heart and, yes, love, this is a fantastic story about being brave, being imperfect, learning, trying, changing, growing, and taking chances. An excellent look at vulnerability, trust, and self-exploration.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534440272
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby

Publisher’s description

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.
 
A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.
 
Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.
 
She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.
 

Amanda’s thoughts

Yes, hi, I would like to climb inside this book and hug Pluto and Fallon. Is that something someone can arrange for me?

It’s the summer after 7th grade and, for Pluto, nothing is the same as it’s always been. She’s spent the past month in bed, not going to school, and acquired a new diagnosis: depression and anxiety. She’s just started meds and will start seeing a therapist soon, but for now, it’s still very new and very awful. Melleby absolutely nails conveying to the reader the mental and physical ways mental illness can affect a person and what the symptoms can look like. Pluto is exhausted. She has brain fog, she feels weighed down, and she just doesn’t feel like herself. She just wants to be herself again.

Her new friend Fallon see’s Pluto’s list of goals for the summer (attend a birthday party, take her meds, etc) and offers to help her if Pluto will help Fallon with things on her list (cut her hair short, tell her mom she doesn’t want to wear dresses and that she maybe—sometimes—feels like a boy). It’s a rough time for Pluto to be making a new friend, as she can hardly get moving most days, but she also loves that Fallon ONLY knows this version of her, and not what she was like before her diagnosis. Pluto spends the summer working with a tutor, beginning therapy, visiting her father (and meeting his girlfriend, who has OCD), also having a terrible, terrible time trying to adjust to living with depression and anxiety. She pulls back from friends, lashes out at her mom, shuts down, rages, cries, fakes her way through things, and just feels crummy.

But.

But. There’s hope. She has the BEST supportive and loving mother. She has medication. She has a therapist. She’s getting caught up in school. She’s sort of seeing her old friends a little. And she’s realizing she gets butterflies whenever she’s around Fallon. She will be okay. Pluto learns to move beyond just wanting to be “fixed” to starting to understand that she’s still herself, no matter what is happening in her life. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to not be okay. And just like with the planet she’s named after, her definition may change but her properties are still the same. She’s still Pluto.

This is a lovely, compassionate, and gentle story that’s full of love, support, hope, and honesty. An absolutely necessary addition to all collections that serve this age group.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781643750361
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/25/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Pandemic School, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today, teen contributor Riley Jensen is sharing her thoughts about starting school this upcoming year. Riley will be starting her senior year; it’s an important year with a lot of big decisions. She knows she wants to be a forensic scientist, which means college and tests and campus visits. She also has found her home, her people, in the theatre program. I did not think last year when I saw her perform that it would possibly be my last time seeing her perform on the high school stage. As her mom, this was very hard to read. We’ve cried a lot, talked a lot, and we’re trying to balance making the best decisions for her with the best decisions for our family with the best decisions for our community, all in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic in a state with really consistently high numbers of infection, hospitalizations and death. Here’s a look into the mind of a teen trying to navigate education in the pandemic.

This year while many other schools have made the decision to start school off virtually, my district decided that students would have a choice between online school and in person school. Only half of my schedule is actual academic courses while the other half is made up of extracurricular courses. So, I made the decision to do in person school since I can’t really be a teacher aide from home. Obviously students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but it can be hard to tell how many of the students will actually follow these instructions since they barely even listen to a dress code already.

Thinking about starting this school year has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have no way of knowing what my fellow students have done, who they have been in contact with or how well they’ve been following the recommended precautions. All I know is that if I get the virus at school I will be bringing it back home to my family.

It’s time to put on make up . . . But will the curtain go up again during senior year?

I also know that not everyone is taking this pandemic very seriously. I see people’s posts about them going out to restaurants or amusement parks or parties. I see them without their masks. I see them not being socially distant. I’m not completely innocent either. I’ve gone out and seen large groups of people. Nobody is really doing what they’re supposed to be doing anymore.

So, when I get back to school, I will be surrounded by people who have gone out and done things without a mask. I will be surrounded by people who don’t think this pandemic is that big of a deal. I will be surrounded by people who probably haven’t even looked at the number of cases in weeks. I will probably not be safe.

Senior photo by Rescue Teacher Photography

There are things I could do to make me more safe obviously. I could just show up to my extracurricular classes, but I don’t drive. I know that’s my own fault but that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t drive. I could drop a few classes and sign up for early release, but then I won’t get all of the credits I need to graduate. At this point I don’t really know what to do, but I’m scared.

I am terrified of the thought that I might get sick and bring it home to my family. I’ve seen the statistics and I know that school is not a super awesome idea. It’s just so much to process. I barely even know what I want to do with my future, but now I have to figure out what to do without putting my whole family in danger of getting sick.

This whole thing is just stressful and scary and something that I never even thought I would have to think about. So, I’m just going to do my part in keeping everyone safe and hope that everyone else does the same. It seems that’s all anyone can really do at this point.

Book Review: Let’s Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry

Publisher’s description

An engrossing and thoughtful contemporary tale that tackles faith, friendship, family, anxiety, and the potential apocalypse from Katie Henry, the acclaimed author of Heretics Anonymous.

There are many ways the world could end. A fire. A catastrophic flood. A super eruption that spews lakes of lava. Ellis Kimball has made note of all possible scenarios, and she is prepared for each one.

What she doesn’t expect is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah calls their meeting fate. After all, Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen.

Despite Ellis’s anxiety—about what others think of her, about what she’s doing wrong, about the safety of her loved ones—the two girls become friends. But time is ticking down, and as Ellis tries to help Hannah decipher the details of her doomsday premonition, their search for answers only raises more questions.

When does it happen? Who will believe them? And how do you prepare for the end of the world when it feels like your life is just getting started?

Amanda’s thoughts

I took July off from blogging for TLT so I could focus on some other projects. I read a lot of books too for all ages. Some of them I skimmed. Some of them I abandoned. A few I I burned through in a day or two. But this one I read every single word. I tried to not race through it because I didn’t want it to be done. I liked Henry’s other book, Heretics Anonymous, and think I loved this one even more.

Despite being an atheist, or, who knows, maybe because I’m an atheist, I read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, about religion. I like novels that revolve around belief systems, that interrogate belief, that show me the inside of someone’s community, especially if that someone is grappling with what to believe and why. For Ellis, a Mormon, she’s working through reconciling what she feels/believes/who she is with her faith. She’s also facing some other really big issues, like an anxiety disorder that always makes her expect the worse, a certainty that the apocalypse is coming, and the fact that her new friend seems to be a doomsday prophet. It’s a lot for a 16-year-old to deal with.

Ellis feels like she’s spent her whole life disappointing her family and making everything worse. That’s not just her anxiety talking—that’s her mother. Her mom has NO TIME for Ellis’s anxiety, and, despite sending her to therapy for it, doesn’t seem interested in understanding at all what it means for Ellis. She’s just constantly exasperated by her. Her mother believes she has an attitude problem, not a mental illness. Ellis, who is super into disaster preparedness, thinks if she saves her family at the end of the world, they will appreciate her and finally understand all of her preparations. Her fixation on this grows more intense when she meets Hannah, who tells Ellis they were fated to meet. Hannah has visions of how the world will end, and though she does need help interpreting the visions, she does know that she and Ellis will be together when it happens. Ellis knows they have to warn everyone, but things go awry when she gets in trouble for her choices and may not be able to be with Hannah for the big event.

Ellis spends the duration of the book ruminating on belief, unbelief, love, understanding, prophecy, metaphor, and truth. Things are not always as they appear, and Ellis tries to understand that while also clinging tightly to the things she really needs to believe, no matter how true they are or not. She also begins to hang out with (and is possibly attracted to) Tal, a boy who has left the Mormon faith, and is bisexual. Conversations with and her attraction to him help her sort out of her own attraction to boys and girls (though she’s not ready to label that as anything yet). A really smart, thoughtful look at beliefs, anxiety, and survival. After two such great books from Henry, I will happily read anything else she writes.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698902
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/06/2019

Book Review: DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Publisher’s description

deadendiaBarney and his best friend Norma are just trying to get by and keep their jobs, but working at the Dead End theme park also means battling demonic forces, time traveling wizards, and scariest of all–their love lives!

Follow the lives of this diverse group of employees of a haunted house, which may or may not also serve as a portal to hell, in this hilarious and moving graphic novel, complete with talking pugs, vengeful ghosts and LBGTQIA love!

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m always marrying things—a really yummy pancake, a cute dog, a good book. Add this graphic novel to my marriage line-up; I’m in love with this book.

 

Really, this book had me at trans protagonist, graphic novel, talking dog, girl with anxiety disorder, and hell portal. It’s like all my favorite things together in one place. If only they had also obsessively eaten donuts and the dog was a dachshund and not a pug! Barney, who is trans, has recently left home, after it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome there. His friend Norma Khan hooks him up with a job as a janitor at the Pollywood amusement park where she works as a guide at a haunted house (a job she likes because there is a script). It’s the least popular attraction there, in the area referred to as Scare Square. Barney figures it will be a good place to stay while he’s homeless, and it maybe would have been, if it hadn’t turned out that the haunted house was also a portal to a bunch of demons. Before long, Barney, Norma, and Barney’s dog, Pugsley, are constantly battling demons through shifting timelines and dimensions. The planes are described as a “big, interdimensional, supernatural cake,” and it’s hard to know who is mostly harmless, who may be helpful, and who eventually becomes bad in a another timeline. When a demon possesses Pugsley early on, he retains the ability to speak, even after they manage to exorcise the demon. Norma has known about the demons for ages, but for Barney, this is all so new and odd at an especially new and odd time in his life.

 

Norma has nicknames for everyone working at the park—it helps with her anxiety, because she’s always worried she will forget someone’s name, so she just calls them nicknames. Barney has a crush on Logs, Logan, who runs the flume log ride. But it’s hard to start up a new relationship when you’re constantly being visited by faceless echo demons, or an angelic punisher, or turned into an animal, or dealing with a fear-eating skull, or being visited by a happiness vampire. Norma starts hanging out with Badyah, a cute hijabi girl, who helps her move past her social anxiety a bit (though Norma doesn’t like being asked to hang out, is horrified with herself when she can’t come up with an excuse to not hang out, and is disgusted to have “plans” to know facts about Badyah), but she also seems a therapist. When trying to describe to someone why her one day of everything seeming strange and scary is nothing to how every day is for Norma, she says, “It doesn’t make me pathetic. It doesn’t make me weird. It makes me brave.” The main characters all have kind of a lot of real-life things to deal with and don’t exactly need the excitement and drama (and terror) that comes with demons, but, willing or not, they slog through this time-traveling battle royale with each others’ help. Complicated emotions, strong friendship, demons, and plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation. All that and bright, bold illustrations AND great writing? Total win. Sweet, funny, and enjoyably, delightfully weird. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910620472
Publisher: Nobrow Ltd.
Publication date: 08/07/2018

Book Review: Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Publisher’s description

ra6For fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, Emery Lord’s When We Collided, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,Anna Priemaza’s debut novel is a heartwarming and achingly real story of finding a friend, being a fan, and defining your place in a difficult world.

Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

katKat is new to Alberta and starting grade 10. Being the new girl is extra hard for Kat, who has anxiety and panic attacks. She tries to stay off everyone’s radar, ducking quickly through halls and hiding out in the library during lunch. At least in the library, she can play Legends of the Stone, her favorite game. Online is where she feels comfortable.

Meg is an extremely charismatic extrovert who has ADHD and has bounced around between friends and is currently mostly friendless. She’s one of only a few black kids in school, chatters nonstop, doesn’t do well in her classes, and is into skateboarding and watching LumberLegs play Legends of the Stone on YouTube.

The two pair up for a science project and, while it’s clear their styles of working (or not working, in Meg’s case) are not going to mesh easily, they bond over LumberLegs and LotS. Meg makes sure they start hanging out, not just getting together to work on their science project, and they start playing LotS online together, too. Meg is a lot for Kat to handle—she’s erratic, wants to make Kat socialize more, and just so full of frantic energy. Kat loves order, predictability, pro/con lists, and hiding out alone. Neither girl reveals her diagnosis to the other, though thanks to the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, it’s pretty obvious. But not talking about the different ways their brains work and how that affects them makes their friendship all the more complicated, muddying up communication and making for hurt feelings. They have such different goals and concerns. Kat would like to win the science fair, keep playing online with the few people she feels comfortable text chatting with, and be friends with Meg but also be left to her own devices as far as being social. Meg desperately wants to go to LotsCON, to find people in her life who stick around (struggling to figure out friends, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her ex-stepdad), and just be herself without also feeling so bad about who and how she is.

 

I don’t presume to actually know what it’s like to live with ADHD. BUT, my son has ADHD, so I do have a fairly good grasp on what it looks like, if not necessarily what it feels like. This story is not really about the ins and outs of ADHD or anxiety/panic disorder. Kat mentions a counselor who didn’t really help her. Meg is on medication. That’s about the extent of any medical/therapy discussions. But, this story is very much about the day-to-day experiences of both ADHD and anxiety. Meg’s inability to focus, to follow through, to live up to her potential, to complete assignments, to remember details, to think through impulsive choices all ring very true. And, as someone who enjoys the roller coaster of fun that is anxiety disorder and panic attacks, I can definitely say that all seems legit, too. Though their friendship isn’t necessarily easy, it is genuine, and more than anything, that’s what this story is about—finding true friendship and showing your real self to someone else. The alternate narration lets readers into the heads of both girls, really showing how they feel about themselves and their lives. While coincidence brings them together and a shared fandom kicks off their friendship, it’s their deep affection for one another and their eventual honesty that really cements their relationship. A fun book about conquering your fears and finding friendship when your own brain sometimes feels like your worst enemy. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062560803
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/07/2017