Tag Archive: families


things you kiss goodbye

The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

Bettina has been raised in a very strict family.  She’s not allowed to do anything other than attend dance classes, which ended when her best friend moved away.  Otherwise it is only school and home.  So when a very sweet basketball player at school asks her out, she is forced to say no.  But he doesn’t accept that and manages to charm Bettina’s family enough that she is allowed to go out with him.  At first everything is wonderful and Brady is a perfect boyfriend, who takes things very slow and doesn’t pressure.  But as they date more, Brady begins to change.  He gets angrier as pressure goes up on the basketball court.  Then Bettina meets a man who is everything that Brady isn’t.  He doesn’t ask for anything from her, never gets mad, and Bettina finds herself longing to spend more time with him even though her family would never approve.  Bettina knows she has to leave Brady before he hurts her more badly, but as she hesitates something happens so that the truth of the two men in her life must be revealed.

Connor captures an abusive relationship with a delicacy that allows the reader to begin to rationalize what happens to Bettina along with her.  This is not straight-forward beatings, but rather teasing taken too far, anger expressed in the wrong way, and as Bettina learns to tiptoe around Brady the reader realizes that they too have been drawn into the wrong relationship alongside her.  It is powerfully done.  When Connor adds the character of Cowboy to the book, it is a surprising choice.  His gentleness and quiet in an older man makes for a charismatic character unusual in teen novels.  While he is a foil for the young and angry Brady, he is also himself a complicated and intriguing figure.

Connor seems to write only complicated characters, much to her credit.  Bettina is a girl who is eager to leave the confines of her upbringing, pushing against her parents’ control.  Yet even her parents are completely drawn characters, struggling to do their best for their daughter.  The book plays with overprotective parents who don’t manage to protect their daughter from anything in the end.  Yet their love is what lingers beyond that.

A powerful read with moments of breathlessness from surprise and shock, this book is not only about an abusive relationship but about true love and hope too.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.

absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The author of A Tangle of Knots returns with a brilliant new protagonist in her new novel.   Albie doesn’t get good grades, in fact he was asked to leave his private school and is going to be starting public school instead.  Albie isn’t the best artist.  He isn’t the best at anything at all.  Except maybe at eating doughnuts for breakfast.  But when he changes schools, things start to change for Albie.  It could be the great new babysitter he gets, since his parents are very busy.  Calista is an artist and she thinks it’s OK that Albie reads Captain Underpants books even though he’s in 5th grade and that he sometimes needs a break from school.  It could be math club, that starts each day with a joke and sneaks math in when Albie isn’t paying attention.  It could be a new best friend, Betsy, someone he can talk to and joke with and who doesn’t get mad when Albie gets confused.  But things aren’t all great.  Albie’s other best friend is appearing on a reality TV show and suddenly Albie gets popular at school, risking his friendship with Betsy.  Albie has a lot to figure out before he knows exactly what he’s good at.

Graff’s writing here is stellar.  She writes with an ease that makes for a breezy read, yet it deals with deep issues along the way.  Thanks to her light touch, the book reads quickly, never bogging down into the issues for too long before lightening again.  Still, it is the presence of those deep issues that make this such a compelling read.  The fact that the book deals with so much yet never feels overwhelmed by any of them is a wonder and a feat.

Throughout the entire book the real hero is Albie.  He is a character that is ordinary, every-day and yet is still a delight to read about.  His perspective is down to earth, often confused, and he walks right into every social trap there is.  He is a character you simply have to root for, a regular boy who is also a hero.  He shows that simply making it through each day being yourself is heroic, and a win.  The world is filled with Albies and this book shows why they should be celebrated.  He’s a delight.

A book with at least four starred reviews, this is a standout novel this year.  Get your hands on it and share it with kids.  It’s a unique and surprising read, just like Albie himself.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

grandmaster

Grandmaster by David Klass

Daniel is a freshman in the chess club of an elite private school.  He knows he’s one of the poorest kids attending the school, one of the least popular, and also one of the worst chess players.  So he’s surprised with two popular and wealthy seniors approach him to invite Daniel and his father to a father son chess tournament in New York City.  He’s even more shocked to find out that his own accountant father who doesn’t seem to be good at anything in particular, used to to be a chess grandmaster thirty years ago.  Daniel convinces his father to participate and quickly realizes that his father has a profound gift for chess.  But as the tournament continues, the stress gets more difficult to deal with and Daniel realizes that his father quitting chess may have been a matter of life and death.

Klass, who was a competitive chess champion himself, writes a book about chess that never lags with too much chess information and is filled with real drama.  Klass wisely mixes drama on the board with drama in real life, showing the complexity of competition on a variety of scales.  I also appreciate that Klass slowly broke down the shell of the wealthy fathers and sons, showing them for whom they truly were.  Happily, he did not end up with stereotypes in any way, rather he showed them all as individuals with various flaws.

Daniel is a great character.  He doesn’t realize his own potential and is actually beyond humble.  He has a great sense of humor as well, something that works well as he deals with his father.  And what a paternal character that is!  His father is an amazing mix of wounded chess veteran, incredible brain, and distant man.  But that changes, grows, reverts and organically continues throughout the book. 

A riveting book about chess, competition and father son relationships, get this book into the hands of chess playing middle schoolers, but even more it may inspire some kids to give the game a try.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

whispering town

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar.  They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden.  Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read.  On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering.  Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away.  But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night?  It will take an entire town to save them.

Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book.  Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well.  The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support.  That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.

Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them.  Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community. 

This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.

feral child

The Feral Child by Che Golden

Maddy’s parents died recently, so she is sent to Ireland to live with her grandparents.  She misses London and her friends dreadfully and doesn’t like her cousins or the town of Blarney.  Though she has been told not to enter the grounds of the castle in town, she does anyway one evening because she is so angry and just doesn’t care.  She stays longer than she means to when her grandparent’s dog George runs off.  It is then that she meets a strange boy.  That same boy returns to her house later, tapping at the window and asking Maddy to join him, but she refuses to go to the window at all, because she has realized that he is not what he seems to be.  When the boy goes to her neighbor and steals their little boy from out of his bedroom window, Maddy sees it all.  But with a changeling in the little boy’s place, no one even knows he is actually missing.  It is up to Maddy, her cousins, and George the dog to save him, because no one else can.  They must enter the faerie realm to do so and face incredible dangers on their quest.

Golden manages to not actually modernize the faeries and their world, which is quite refreshing.  Instead what you have in this middle-grade novel is a modern girl thrust into the strange and timeless world of the faeries.  She takes the most menacing and amazing parts of folklore and brings them fully to life, creating a dazzling array of faeries and beasts as the children travel.  The dangers are brutally displayed and there are times when death is so close, readers will be amazing that the characters survive.

Maddy is not a particularly likeable character at first in the novel, nor are her cousins.  Maddy is the main protagonist and undergoes a believable transformation into heroine as the novel goes on.  The same can be said for one of her cousins who comes out of her shell and into her own.  The other cousin, the bully, has too easy a transformation and it happens a bit to early in the book as well.  But that is a quibble in an impressive faerie tale.

Faeries, Ireland and an amazing quest all come together to create a book that is frightening, riveting and a rip-roaring read.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Quercus.

baby tree

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall

A young boy is told at breakfast that a new baby is coming.  He has a lot of questions, but the biggest one is “Where are we going to get the baby?”  So he starts asking different people.  His babysitter Olive who walks him to school in the morning says that you plant a seed and it grows into a baby tree.  At school, he asks his teacher where babies come from and she says “from the hospital” but he can’t ask any more questions because it’s time to clean up.  That afternoon he asks his grandpa about babies, because he is the only person that the boy knows who has been to the hospital, and Grandpa says that a stork brings the baby in the night and leaves it on your doorstep.  The mailman says that babies come from eggs.  The boy is very confused, so that night he asks his parents and they explain about babies growing inside their mom, about seeds and eggs and the hospital.  Now all the boy has to do is explain it to Grandpa who is clearly uninformed!

Blackall weaves an age-appropriate look at reproduction in this picture book.  I particularly appreciated that when the older characters explained it to the boy, there were touches of honesty in each of their answers that come together cleverly in the end, except for Grandpa’s of course!  It is a book that explains just enough of the details to answer preschool questions, without going into details that they are not interested in at that age. 

As always, Blackall’s illustrations are fresh and unique.  Her illustrations are friendly and lovely, focusing on the relationships in this boy’s life beyond his parents.  They demonstrate a richness of connections that is a delight.

A great addition to library collections, this is an ideal level of information for preschoolers expecting a new sibling soon.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

saving lucas biggs

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

When Margaret’s father is sentenced to death, she can’t believe it since she is certain he is innocent.  But this is what happens when someone tries to stand up to the company that owns the entire town.  It’s also the company that owns Judge Biggs.  The only way that Margaret can see to save her father is to change Judge Biggs’ mind.  According to Grandpa Josh, her best friend’s grandfather, Judge Biggs used to be a good person until his father was accused of murder and hung himself.  The only person who can change the course of time is Margaret who has to use her family’s forbidden power of time travel.  But history resists change and Margaret only has a few days before history rejects her to make the necessary changes to save her father.

De los Santos and Teague have written a book that takes on time travel in a very refreshing way.  The idea that history actively resists change and that there is a physical toll on the time travelers makes for frustrating time travel.  Yet it feels right and also creates tension in the story at just the right moment.  The authors also explore company towns and how workers tried to stand up to unfair business practices.  Here there is plenty of action in that fight, including murder and gunfire as well as quiet desperation. 

Margaret is a winning character, one who travels in time very reluctantly but is given little choice when she is the sole person who has a chance of saving her father.  The story dives into complexity, never making things easy or simple.  One aspect of this is the way that redemption is viewed.  Characters are seen as changeable, able to be rescued from what happened to them even in their elder years.  This book is about getting chances to make the right choice in the end, forgiveness for poor choices earlier, and friendships that stand through time and betrayal. 

A rich and vibrant look at time travel, this fantasy will also appeal to history buffs.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

migrant

Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker by Jose Manuel Mateo, illustrated by Javier Martinez Pedro

In this bilingual book, a boy from Mexico talks about the changes in his family and his village as people leave Mexico to find work in the United States.  The story begins with the boy speaking about his village and how it used to be as a farming community with small farms where he would play.  But then things changed and soon the village was just women and children with all of the men gone to find work elsewhere.  When his mother was unable to find work in the village and his father’s money stopped arriving, the had no choice but to leave too.  The story changes to one of escape, hiding and running, one that mirrors that boy’s games as a small child, but they are no longer fun here.  The family makes it safely to Los Angeles, but there are new barriers in the way with the new country.

migrant inside

Told in a unique vertical format that echoes the ancient codex, this book uses its format to great effect.  First, it mirrors the sense of a journey across distances, across cultures.  Just opening this book feel different and special and then the length of the single page captures that sense of travel and quest.  The voice of the book is also exquisitely done.  The boy looking back on his childhood, seeing the changes and then the contrast of his childhood with the frightening present is filled with a taut tension that never goes away.

migrant pages

Even as I gush about the writing, I can’t say enough about the art.  Done in a single pane that continues through the entire vertical book, it shows the village, the train that allows their escape, and finally LA.  The art has an ancient feel to it, filled with tiny details, many people, plants, houses, and more.  It’s a tribute to the history of Mexico, the thousands of people who cross the border, and the beauty of their courage.

Unique and incredibly lovely, this book is one that won’t work in public libraries due to the format.  But it’s one that is worth celebrating despite that limitation.  Get this in special collections!  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.

infinite sky

Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood

This book begins with the death of a boy but the identity of the dead person is not revealed.  We are then taken back to the beginning of summer, three months after Iris’ mother has left their family and just as the travelers come to stay in the field near Iris’ home.  She lives with her father and Sam, her brother, who continues to struggle with his mother leaving.  Iris starts watching the travelers in the field and becomes friends with Trick, a boy who is easy to talk to and easy to listen to.  Tensions start to rise as a theft is discovered and the travelers are blamed for it.  The long, hot British summer inexorably leads towards the death of one of the boys, but who is it?  Is it Trick or Sam?

Flood’s writing is beautiful and detailed.  The setting she creates of the British countryside in summer is one that is so finely drawn that you can see it in its entirety.  In fact, you can hear it, feel it, smell it too, so clear and strong are her descriptions.  The book’s structure of starting with the tragedy that defines the story adds a great amount of tension.  Because the boy who dies is not revealed until towards the end of the book, that mystery is a focus.  Yet at times one is also lost in the summer itself, its heat and the freedom it provides.

Flood has also created a complicated group of characters in this book.  All of the characters have complicated family lives, whether it is a mother who left or an abusive father.  Yet these characters are not defined by those others, they are profoundly affected by it, but are characters with far more depth than just an issue.  This is a book that explores being an outsider, falling in love, expressing emotions, and most of all being true to yourself and doing what you know is right.

A perfect read for a hot summer day, this is a compelling mix of romance, mystery and tragedy.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

this one summer

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Rose goes to Awago Beach every summer with her parents, but this summer things don’t feel quite the same.  Rose’s friend Windy is also there and the two of them hang out together just like every other summer.  But Rose’s parents are always arguing and her mother won’t go swimming with them at all.  Rose and Windy find their own way to escape the fighting, they rent horror movies from the local shop.  While they are there picking out and returning their movies, they watch a summer of teenage drama unfold in front of them.  This is a summer unlike any others, one where secrets are hidden and revealed and where sorrow mixes with the summer sun.

Done by the pair that did Skim, this is an amazing graphic novel for teens.  It deals with that fragile moment in life where children are becoming teens and everything around them is changing.  These two girls are suspended in that time during the summer, learning about themselves, about their parents and witnessing events around them in a new way.  The use of a summer vacation to capture that moment in time is superb.  Yet this book is not a treatise on the wonder of childhood at all.  It deals with deeper issues, darker ones, ones that the two girls are not ready to handle yet.  And that’s what makes it all the more wondrous as a book.

The art in the book is phenomenal.  The two girls are different physically, one a little stouter than the other and both are real girls expressing real emotions.  And the larger of the two girls is not the shy, meek one.  She has a wonderful sassiness to her, an open grin, and rocks a bikini.  Hoorah!  The art captures summer days, the beach, what a face of sorrow looks like and how it tears into ones entire physique.  Done in blue and white, the images are detailed and realistic.

A glimpse of one summer and what happens during it, this book is about capturing a moment in time, one that is filled with depth, despair and desire.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from digital copy received from

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