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Larger Than Life Grandmothers and Best Friends, a guest post by Jaime Berry

Without really meaning to, I seem to write stories with a grandparent and a best friend at the center, and my novel Hope Springs is no different. My main character, Jubilee, lives with her grandmother, Nan. They abide by a set of Relocation Rules they’ve created to help them in their search for the “perfect place.” But Jubilee starts to feel their first rule—just the two of them is all they need—might leave them a little too close to alone.

I didn’t live with my grandmother, but when I was young, I spent almost all my free time with her. She was spectacular—a painter, big, bold and loud, somewhat foul-mouthed, a fantastic cook, a crafter, an avid reader, a dog lover, and a soap opera and video game aficionado. She drove her enormous Crown Victoria sedan with burgundy plush interior, a car we called the Hooptie, with such wild abandon that every errand was a nail-biting adventure. From the time I was born until my late teens when she passed away, she never lived more than two blocks away from me.

After school, we watched Guiding Light, we took weekly trips to the library, drew or painted together, and rounded out the days with an hour or so of Super Mario Bros. She tried and failed to teach me to crochet but succeeded in teaching me to play gin rummy by age six. On weekends when my mother let me stay the night, Nanny Stella whisked me over to the local bingo game at Big Ben Skating Rink and let me manage two of her many cards. Despite being the youngest attendee by at least fifty years, I found the whole experience thrilling. She used to embarrass me to no end when she’d introduce me as her “bosom buddy” rather than her granddaughter, but deep down, I loved it. Unlike my main character, Jubilee, I never suspected I was missing out on anything at all.

In one way or another my grandmother always works her way into my stories. All the grandmotherly characters in Hope Springs are parts of her, but maybe she was most like the least grandmotherly of all—Nan. Like Nan, my grandmother was a real character, a scene stealer. She taught me to be strong and opinionated, to value creativity, and that sometimes being good and being polite are two very different things. Maybe it’s because she loved me unconditionally that it wasn’t until I had a best friend my own age that I felt those qualities were truly appreciated. And it’s only when Jubilee meets and befriends Abby that she feels ready to say what she truly wants out loud. I think that’s one of the things great friendships do, embolden us, and make us unafraid to be ourselves out loud.

When I wasn’t with my grandmother I wouldn’t say I was lonely, but I was often alone, especially at school. I was not good at following rules, and having grown up in the church, I was overly concerned about making decisions that would land me in hell (like maybe bingo and gin rummy). But when I was ten, a girl named Tamara showed up in my class. The arrival of a new kid in my hometown in rural Oklahoma was an event. There was almost a sort of competition to see who would get to be friends with her first. And I don’t know how in the world it got to be me, but it got to be me!

We spent recess racing and trying and failing to perform a cartwheel while holding hands, ending up in a tangled pile of giggles. Every weekend we alternated staying the night at each other’s houses. We painted toenails, caught crawdads (Tamara caught them, I squealed and ran for the shore), and rode four wheelers. At recess we ran like wild things, sang “Sweet Child of Mine” at the top of our lungs, and laughed in the faces of all who thought us strange. It was a kind of magic I’d never felt before. Nanny Stella was fantastic, but she sure didn’t sprint and she’d never heard of Guns N’ Roses.

I knew how much my grandmother’s influence impacted me but never thought about how that first real friendship shaped me until I noticed how much of it made its way into Hope Springs. Hope Springs, Texas is the perfect place for Jubilee to finally put down roots, but her friendship with Abby is what kickstarts her growth. With Abby, Jubilee learns to try new things, becomes involved in her community, develops connections to others, and finds the nerve to admit and to fight for what she really wants—to belong, to be loved, and to finally feel at home. Growing up I had all three, and I thought Jubilee should too.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lee Seidenberg Photography

Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma and a former New York City public school teacher. After years with two small boys in a too-small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel.

Social Links: Twitter: @jaime_berry3, Instagram: jaimeberryauthor, Website: jaimeberryauthor.com

About Hope Springs

Fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will fall in love with this tug-at-your-heartstrings middle grade novel about one girl who is desperate to find the “perfect home” as she moves from one town to the next with her Grandmother.
Eleven-year-old Jubilee Johnson is an expert at three things: crafting, moving, and avoiding goodbyes. On the search for the “perfect place,” she and her Nan live by their Number One Relocation Rule — just the two of them is all they need. But Jubilee’s starting to feel like just two is a little too close to alone.

Desperate to settle down, Jubilee plans their next move, Hope Springs, Texas — home of her TV crafting idol, Arletta Paisley. Here she meets a girl set on winning the local fishing tournament and a boy who says exactly the right thing by hardly speaking at all. Soon, Jubilee wonders if Hope Springs might just be the place to call home.

But when the town is threatened by a mega-chain superstore fronted by Arletta Paisley, Jubilee is faced with skipping town yet again or standing up to her biggest bully yet. With the help of her new friends and the one person she never thought she’d need — her Momma — will Jubilee find a way to save the town she’s come to love and convince Nan that it’s finally time to settle down?

ISBN-13: 9780316540575
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 08/10/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano

This Is How We Fly

Publisher’s description

A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who—after getting grounded for the whole summer—joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing, perfect for fans of Dumplin’Fangirl, and everyone who’s read and adored Harry Potter. 

17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window. 

Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans. 

Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs. 

But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control—Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps. 

Amanda’s thoughts

First of all, OF COURSE J.K. Rowling is a disgusting human and her horrible TERF-y takes have made me divest myself of all my HP paraphernalia. I now have a visceral reaction of UGH whenever I see a HP reference (and somedays it feels impossible to get through a book without some kind of HP reference cropping up). So if you feel like me, here’s what I hope you will do: Understand that this book here is about playing quidditch, which, yes, is from the world of HP, but that’s it—it’s not some kind of love letter to a now VERY problematic franchise. I will totally admit to letting this book sit on my shelf for a bit because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it because of the simple fact that it’s something to do with HP. Please be better than me and just immediately get this book and start reading. This book is wonderful.

If you’re looking for a book that’s brimming with feminism and politics and messy friendships, this book is for you. Summer after senior year is supposed to be Ellen’s last chance to super bond with her friends before they all split up for college. Instead, her best friend Xiumaio basically cuts her loose on graduation day, claiming a need for more space. Combined with the fact that life at home is challenging—Ellen has a contentious relationship with her stepmother and totally feels like her family just wants her gone already—Ellen feels totally alone, like everyone thinks they’d just be better off without her.

Probably because she’s feeling so lost, she agrees to give playing quidditch a chance. Ellen has never been into sports of any kind and doesn’t exactly seem psyched, but Melissa, her other BFF, is into it, so at least they can spend a little time together. Once Ellen basically gets grounded for life (stepmom issues), quidditch practice and games become her only source of human interaction. Before long, she’s making new friends, trying new things, and finally maybe finding her people and her place. But it’s not all sunshine. Melissa seems to be pulling away now, too, ditching Ellen for a new quidditch friend. Ellen doesn’t know who to turn to as she experiences new things and has lots of feelings about what’s going on during this surprisingly eventful summer.

I adored the fiercely feminist conversations in this book, the great representation (Ellen is Mexican American and not entirely sure how she feels about gender things, identity-wise), the engaging look into the world of quidditch teams, and the super messy friendships, relationships, and family issues. I finished the book wishing I could hang out with Ellen and her friends. A super real look at the weird liminal space between high school and college. Don’t miss this one!

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593116876
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 12/15/2020
Age Range: 12 Years

Book Review: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

Publisher’s description

epicA fresh, charming rom-com perfect for fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Boy Meets Boy about Nathan Bird, who has sworn off happy endings but is sorely tested when his former best friend, Ollie, moves back to town.

Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings. Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel—but this strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Like ever-changing relationships? Then this is the book for you. It’s friends-to-lovers-to-friends-again, it’s friends-to-estranged-to-friends-to lovers-to-estranged-to-?, it’s friends-to-crush-to-rejection-to-lovers (I am really not enjoying how much I am using the word “lovers” here, but I’m trying to stick with the phrasing of this kind of trope). Basically, if you like stories that are super about relationships, this is your book.

 

Nate has his guard up, big time. He’s so worried about getting hurt, about getting his heart broken, that he either preemptively ruins things before they can get ruined or doesn’t allow himself to act on his feelings. He and Flo have recently broken up, after dating for a year. Flo would like Nate and her new girlfriend to be friends, but that’s asking a lot, especially when you consider that Nate may still have feelings for Flo (and doesn’t particularly want to be buds with the girl with whom Flo cheated on Nate). But Flo and Nate seem pretty okay—a little tension there, maybe, but still best friends. And speaking of best friends, Nate’s childhood BFF, Oliver James, is back in town. Nate is pretty sure he had screwed up their friendship beyond all repair when Oliver moved, but the two quickly start hanging out again. Oliver is hard of hearing and Nate still remembers a lot of sign language, so the two talk out loud (Oliver reads lips, too), sign, and type out more complicated thoughts that Nate can’t figure out how to sign. Things are a little tense with them at times (do you get the feeling things are often a little tense between various characters in this book?), but they seem like they’re back to being friends. Except Nate has feelings for Ollie. FEEEEELINGS. And Oliver has a boyfriend back in Santa Fe. But… but…. It’s always complicated, right? Even if Oliver winds up single and Nate can act on his feelings, will he? Is he too scared? Too self-protective? Will his meddling friends just let them figure it out at their own pace? Will kissing various friends make things MORE clear or way more complicated? You can probably guess.

 

There’s a lot of great things going on in this book—queer POC main characters, a hard of hearing main character, fluid sexuality that doesn’t have labels or require any kind of “wait, you like boys, too?” kind of conversation, strong friendships, honest feelings, and lots of pop culture references. It’s a good read for those who like character-driven stories, though at times I wanted more from the characters (I wanted to know more about their backstories, their friendships, their thought process). Throughout the course of the book, Nate writes a screenplay, which was hear a tiny bit about but never really get to see any of—I would have liked to see some of it! We don’t get much of a deep dive into Nate’s psychological reasons for being so afraid of relationships (other than his dad died some years ago and his mom is still grieving), so his character doesn’t develop as much as I would have liked to see. But, overall, it’s a fun, quick read full of dating, making out, and breaking up. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062820228
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/30/2018

Book Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Publisher’s description

summer of jordiSeventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosseplaying bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is.

Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

If you are not reading Amy Spalding’s books, you are totally missing out. Her dialogue is A+ and I always want to be best friends with all of her characters. This book was no exception.

 

17-year-old Abby has always viewed herself as the quirky, funny sidekick in her own life—the one who watches cool things happen to other people and is there for advice and clever one-liners. Because of this view of herself, she kind of can’t believe it when Mexican American Jordi Perez, who is cute, cultured, serious, and seems to have it all together, reciprocates her crush. Both girls get a summer internship together at Lemonberry, a faux vintage clothing store. Abby runs a fashion blog and Jordi takes excellent photographs. Though they’ve gone to high school together, they don’t really know each other—in fact, Abby can’t even remember Jordi’s name at first. It’s a summer full of unexpected things for Abby, who also ends up becoming best buds with Jax, a lacrosse-playing friend of her best friend’s boyfriend (Jax is convinced this makes them friends-in-law, so of course they should hang out). Jax ropes Abby into eating and rating burgers all summer as part of his dad’s new Yelp-like app. Jax is a gem of a character—funny, supportive, and so much more than the cliche that it seems like he may be. While Abby has a cool internship, a rad girlfriend, and great friends (including some unexpected new ones), it’s not all roses. Abby repeatedly mentions that she’s fat. When she says something about being fat and Jax starts to say she’s not, she points out to him that she is, which isn’t bad, but “acting like fat’s an insult is.” She’s cool with her body and her weight, for the most part, though she is a little self-conscious especially when she and Jordi start making out (a not-so-unusual feeling for anyone). Though she runs a fashion blog, she never posts pictures of herself on it. She’s particularly self-conscious about pictures of herself, not because she doesn’t like to look at them, but because she would like to avoid all of the fat-hating comments from people who may view them. It just seems easier and safer to not put herself out there. Then there’s the issue of her mother, a food blogger, who seems to constantly view Abby as a disappointment. Abby is pretty sure her mother would prefer her to be straight and thin, things she more or less says outright to her. But despite the feeling of being a disappointment to her mother, things are mostly going great… until they aren’t.

 

This book has a super wide appeal—it’s an excellent romance full of joy and happiness. Abby’s zest for fashion is contagious—my own closet is full of mostly black and extremely boring, but I loved reading about Abby’s outfits and the clothes at the shop. Though there is a fight and some fallout/heartbreak, this is a feel-good book with tons of charm, humor, and heart. This funny, sweet, summer read was the perfect thing to spend a blizzardy day off of work reading. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781510727663
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book review: Vanished by E.E. Cooper

In E.E. Cooper’s Vanished, Kalah is left to put together the pieces of a mystery after one of her best friends disappears and another commits suicide.

 

Kalah, a junior, is newly best friends with seniors Beth and Britney, who have a long history of fighting and making up. Kalah and Beth have been hooking up, unbeknownst to Britney (and to Kalah’s boyfriend or anyone else, for that matter). Kalah feels closer to Beth, but Beth has a history of not getting involved or attached, so it’s hard to know how she really feels about Kalah. Britney is moody, jealous, and controlling. She’s extremely concerned with her image, going so far as to lie about getting into every Ivy League school she applied to. Kalah knows this new friendship is fragile, but she’s desperate to reconcile her public and private self and show who she really is. She intends to tell Beth how she really feels and what she wants (to be with her) on the night of Beth’s 18th birthday. But that plan goes away when Beth disappears to get some “space.”

 

Kalah is devastated that Beth left without even so much as a goodbye. She’s also, rightfully so, extremely worried, but Britney gives the impression that she knows more about Beth’s disappearance and that it’s fine. In fact, nobody seems super alarmed that she’s gone. She’s 18, she wanted some space, she’s clearly fine, let it go. Things become murkier when Jason, Britney’s boyfriend, is taken in for questioning after eyewitnesses report seeing him arguing with and then making out with Beth. Kalah isn’t sure who or what to believe, a feeling that intensifies when Britney leaves a suicide note and disappears. No body is found, but she’s presumed dead. Kalah tries desperately to get in touch with Beth, but when she finally hears back from her, she starts to wonder if maybe the truth of all of this is far more complicated and insidious than anyone could imagine.

 

There is a lot going on in this book beyond the main plot. Kalah repeatedly references her anxiety and OCD, and talks about having spent some time in therapy and the various ways her therapist helped her learn how to cope with these things. Her mother suggests she go back to therapy after all of this happens, an idea Kalah is resistant to. Kalah also has never been attracted to a girl before and doesn’t know how to tell anyone about it, or if she wants to. When she does tell her brother and her mother that she loved Beth, they are kind, loving, and sympathetic. This book also features lots of odious adults—nosy reporters, and oversharing and pushy officer, and absent or terrible parents (particularly Britney’s racist mother).

 

The ending of the book leaves a lot of room for interpretation—do we believe the story Kalah has put together or the one presented to her—and ends on a total cliffhanger. The pace of the book really ramps up about halfway through and manages to sustain the suspense and mystery all the way to the last word. My only real quibbles with the book are the slow start, the too similarly named main characters (Beth and Britney—took me a while to keep them straight), and the less well-developed secondary characters. It’s also hard to feel like we really know Beth or Britney because they both spend much of the story gone—they’re really gone before we get to see much of them. Over all, though, this a was a compelling read, one that will be a hit with fans of suspense stories and plot twists. An easy recommendation for a wide audience of readers. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS

ISBN-13: 978006229390

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 5/12/2015

Series: Vanished Series #1