Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Publisher’s description

From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting allthe time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.

Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

Amanda’s thoughts

This was another book I sought out as I worked on my article for School Library Journal on mental health rep in middle grade books (look for that March 2022!). As far as I can tell, there are not really a whole lot of middle grade books that address the mental health of boys, period, so when I saw this title, about a Black boy dealing with anxiety, I tracked it down right away. Given it’s written by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Raul the Third, I figured it would be great. And it was.

Portico has “the frets,” as he calls them. The rest of us would probably call them an anxiety disorder. As someone who has an anxiety disorder with panic attacks, I sure recognized how quickly Portico’s mind would leap from “this thing might not be okay” to “AUGH! QUICK! MOVE! ACT! PANIC!” Portico’s parents are splitting up, something he doesn’t particularly understand until quite far into the book. But all of their constant arguing is taking its toll on him, causing those frets to crop up more and more frequently. He keeps busy and distracted by running around his apartment complex with his best friend, Zola, having little adventures while acting like Stuntboy, a kind of superhero who exists to keep others protected (again, hey there, recognizable anxiety). His building is full of larger-than-life characters who keep things interesting, but underlying everything are those blasted frets, just waiting to get in Portico’s way.

Not only is the story a total hit (and such a necessary depiction of a young Black boy navigating anxiety), but the format itself and all of the art make this exceedingly appealing. This fully illustrated novel includes comic book panels as a story within the story, little commercial break asides, double page spreads, and LOTS of dynamic action. A fantastic read with wide appeal. I look forward to more adventures of Stuntboy!

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534418165
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 7 – 12 Years

Book Review: Original Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

Thanks to Penguin generously donating some ARCs for Kirstin’s recent visit to my library, I have two extra to raffle off. You can enter via the Rafflecopter, by (re)tweeting this review, or by following me on Twitter (@CiteSomething). Contest runs 4/19 to 4/21. US entries only, please. 

Publisher’s description

original fakeIn this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war.

Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

In summer 2014, Kirstin came to my library to do an author talk. She mentioned that she was working on this book and I was instantly intrigued. Then, in summer 2015, we did a cover reveal for this book right here at TLT. Getting a peek at the art made me even more intrigued. I always like everything Kirstin does and this book was no exception. ORIGINAL FAKE is smart, weird, funny, and, well, original.

 

Introvert Frankie feels like he doesn’t fit in with his family. His mother is a Frank Sinatra impersonator and his father is a fill-in Frank-N-Furter at Rocky Horror shows. Their singing-dancing-acting genes got passed along to Frankie’s younger sister, Lou, who hangs with the drama kids and appears to be everything their parents could have ever wanted. In fact, when she was a baby, Frankie overheard his parents saying that the constellation of freckles in the shape of an F mean Lou’s the real deal—they should’ve saved the name Frankie for her. Frankie’s resentment of Lou’s status as favorite child has been brewing for years. In fact, he’d like to “push her off a cliff into the ocean.” Because of her, he hasn’t shown anyone his own art for a long time. Frankie, who sees himself as just average, works on his art in secret in a mostly forgotten room of their large house.

 

Frankie’s hero is Uncle Epic, a street artist from the Minneapolis area. He can’t believe the wild twists and turns his life takes on when he’s swept up in Uncle Epic’s world when he’s befriended by cousins Rory and David, whose actual uncle is Uncle Epic. “Cool stuff never happens to me,” Frankie thinks. Before long he’s part of Epic’s street team, helping prepare and install art pieces all around the city. That’s pretty cool, and just as cool is the fact that Frankie finally feels like he has friends. Rory is the prettiest girl in Frankie’s grade, with a reputation for using boys then breaking their hearts—naturally he has a crush on her. David is a skirt-wearing gay kid with a quick sense of humor and a creative streak a mile wide. Frankie’s experience with Epic’s art projects combine with his resentment of Lou to fuel his own public art projects—ones whose purpose is both humor and revenge—which end up giving him more attention than he could have expected. Suddenly, Frankie’s helping Rory yarn bomb, helping Epic with his art, drawing attention (under a pseudonym) for his own weird public art, and trying to stay off the police’s radar. Though he keeps landing in hot water with his parents, as he sneaks out night after night, it’s all worth it to Frankie, who finally feels like he has something that’s his.

 

I absolutely adored this book. As a character-driven reader, I was delighted by how fantastic and unique Frankie, David, Lou, their parents, and really everyone was. There is a lot to talk about here about art, gender, and families. And let’s talk about the illustrations for a minute. If you check out the cover reveal post we did, you can peek at more of the art than just what you see on the cover. Using oranges, black, and white, Johnson’s illustrations greatly add to the story and at times take over the telling of the story. It would have been a shame to have this brilliant book all about art not have illustrations showing us that art. Frankie, Lou, and David’s adventures really come to life thanks to the combined skills of the writer and the illustrator. ORIGINAL FAKE stands out in every way—great characters, great writing, great art. Give this to art-loving, oddball, slightly subversive readers who appreciate a good caper. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780399173264

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 04/19/2016

Book Review: Sea Change by Frank Viva

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 March 2016 issue of School Library Journal.

 

VIVA, Frank. Sea Change. 120p. TOON Graphics. May 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781935179924.

sea changeGr 5–8—Twelve-year-old Eliot could not be less excited about being shipped off to Point Aconi, in Nova Scotia, where he will spend the summer helping his great-uncle Earl on a fishing boat. Even though he is quickly embraced by a small group of neighborhood kids, led by the intriguing Mary Beth, life in Point Aconi is worse than he imagined—which is impressive, as a teacher formerly noted his “dark” imagination. Slowly, Eliot adjusts. He works hard, spends hours reading aloud from Earl’s extensive library, makes his uncle proud, and kisses Mary Beth. His summer is spent fishing, swimming, and exploring. Despite all the fun, Eliot realizes that life is far more complicated than he thought. He begins to understand the politics behind a strip-mining coal company looking to buy up the properties in Point Aconi. And when Mary Beth confides a secret to Eliot, one she begs him not to reveal, he has to make a hard choice. Though he loves his summer in Point Aconi and hopes to return, he begins to look forward to going back home, where he can just be a kid again. This is more of a highly illustrated novel than a typical graphic novel, and Viva’s bold, simple illustrations are whimsical and bring to life the story’s unique characters. Viva plays with text, too, sometimes placing it at a slant, piling it in a pyramid, or using it to create pictures. VERDICT The unconventional format of this funny, poignant coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of comics and graphic novels.—Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN