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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

Book Review: You Be You!: The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family by Jonathan Branfman, Julie Benbassat (Illustrator)

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 an issue of School Library Journal

Gr 3–6—This conversational primer on gender, sexuality, and family supports and affirms all identities, urging readers to see and value all human experiences. The author posits that the narrow and conventional ideas many children are taught—born a boy or girl, marry someone of the “opposite” sex, have children, conform to gender roles—are untrue, and “that’s great news!” Instead, a world of possibility is open to all children. Full of joyful, bright, comic-style illustrations, this brief guide touches on assigned sexes, people who are intersex, stereotypes, and gender identity. The author clarifies that marriage and children are a choice, not an expectation, and explains discrimination (looking specifically at sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia), privilege, intersectionality, and what it means to be an ally. Readers learn definitions for identities and orientations like genderqueer, nonbinary, gender-fluid, transgender, cisgender, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and pansexual. This supportive, educational look at identities offers constant reminders that no matter your chosen identity, whoever you love is great. A varied depiction of ethnicities, races, abilities, ages, and body shapes are shown in the vibrant illustrations. This guide could easily be read together with younger readers; certainly many older readers, including adults, could benefit from this quick and easy look at acceptance. 

VERDICT This inclusive and respectful guide should be part of all curricula about family, gender, and sexuality. Short, accessible, and important.

ISBN-13: 9781787750104
Publisher: Kingsley, Jessica Publishers
Publication date: 07/18/2019

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Publisher’s description

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

princeI so enjoyed this graphic novel.

Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium doesn’t always feel like a prince. Some days, he looks at himself in the mirror, wearing his traditional “boy” clothes, and feels just fine. Other days, that doesn’t feel right at all. He’d rather wear dresses and feel like a princess. He’s completely uninterested in finding a wife (something his parents are fixated on). He’s 16 and harboring this secret—he doesn’t exactly feel ready for a relationship, where he’d likely need to reveal parts of himself that he isn’t yet ready to. Instead, he hangs with his new seamstress (and new best friend) Frances, who barely blinks when she learns her new client is a prince wanting to wear dresses. She’s just excited to make some wild designs and maybe be discovered. Sebastian dons her dresses and enjoys a nightlife as the popular, trend-setting Lady Crystallia. He appears happier than he’s ever been, but he still has to deal with the fact that his parents are on a wife-hunt and that he’s living a secret life. When Frances’s designs do get her noticed, she finds herself possibly getting the break of a lifetime. But pursuing her dreams may mean Lady Crystallia’s real identity getting out, a risk that Sebastian can’t take.

Sebastian’s story is, at times, difficult to read. Living a secret life, hiding who he is, is both heartbreaking and exhausting. He’s unhappy and lives in fear. He is so certain he won’t be accepted. The story also includes a pretty unpleasant scene of him being outed. That said, it’s important to know that Sebastian is eventually embraced and accepted by his family and friends, even once they know the truth. The scene surrounding this moment, a fashion show, is pretty epic. Readers who may feel some of the same self-loathing, secrecy, and fear especially need to see this happy resolution. Wang’s gorgeous artwork is well suited to depict a story filled with decadence and high fashion. The characters are so expressive and dynamic—we see Sebastian absolutely come live as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia, and generally appear so miserable when he’s out of those beautiful dresses. Though their relationship has some growing pains, the supportive and loving friendship between Frances and Sebastian is lovely. Fans of graphic novels will be drawn in by the lush and lively art. The strong storytelling and fantastic characters will keep readers engaged, making sure they pay attention to all of the details in the art that add to the story. Though Sebastian’s road to being able to show his real self isn’t easy, it’s wonderful to see him loved, embraced, and supported in the end. Let’s hear it for happy endings! 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626723634
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 02/13/2018

Book review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

It’s not often that I find a book completely fantastic. It’s also not often that I find a character in YA and think, yes–finally! I was like that as a teen. I could have been that character. Or that character is someone I would actually have been friends with. Enter Liz Prince’s Tomboy, an utterly fantastic graphic novel memoir about a girl who struggles with what it means to be a “girl.”

 

Tomboy follows Liz from age four through her teenage years. Liz isn’t thrilled to be a girl. She identifies as a tomboy. She writes, “I felt it really defined me. It was a lifestyle that I took very seriously.” She was into traditionally “boy” toys and activities. (I should note here that she also writes, “Obviously, this subject makes a lot of assumptions about gender, both male and female, and trying to define what makes a girl or what makes a boy is what got me so confused in the first place!”) She preferred to wear clothes meant for boys. When she played pretend, she was always a boy character (Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Dennis the Menace). She was often mistaken for a boy. She also hoped she would become a boy–she felt she was supposed to be a boy. She’s bullied and mocked. Unsurprisingly, kids question her appearance, ask her if she’s a boy or girl, make fun of her, call her a lesbian…. It’s all pretty typical fare aimed at someone who doesn’t conform to expectations or social constructs. It hurts Liz, but she steadfastly remains herself. She makes friends over the years–generally other misfit-types (I use that term in the most loving way possible, as “misfit-types” are my people), but continues to have a hard time finding where she fits, especially once puberty hits and not only is she contending with this new undeniably female body, but with the many dramas that come with dating. It isn’t until she starts hanging out with a group of boys who completely accept her and, later, gets into the world of zines and punk shows that she starts to feel like she’d found a community.

 

Prince captures the uncertainty and unpredictability of adolescence perfectly. Liz’s main preoccupation is gender nonconformity, but equally important in the memoir are the stories of making and losing friends, of dating successes and failures, and of just figuring out where you fit, period. As a former teenage misfit who spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about gender and gender presentation (thank you, punk, feminism, and riot grrrl), writing zines, and going to punk shows, this book delighted me. Great for fans of graphic novels, memoirs, characters on the fringes, and anyone who has ever thought “what the hell does it even mean to be a girl, anyway?”

 

ISBN-13: 9781936976553

Publisher: Zest

Publication date: 9/2/2014