Tag Archive: friendship


truth commission

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby (InfoSoup)

There are books you never want to end, and this is one of those. These characters are so fresh and new and real that I wanted to spend even more time with them. This novel is about three teenage friends who attend a private art high school together. There is Dusk, the stunningly beautiful girl who creates tiny tableaus for stuffed shrews. There is Neil, a boy stuck in the 1970s and who paints portraits of beautiful women like Dusk. And then there is the protagonist, Normandy, who does tiny needlepoint work and is best known for being the younger sister of the famous graphic novelist. The three start The Truth Commission, where they decide to start asking everyone the truth about things they may be keeping secret. Nothing is off limits from sexuality to love to angry ostrich-raising school secretaries. But Normandy’s family survives on secrets and the question becomes whether she can face the truth about herself and those she loves.

Juby has created a witty and dazzling read for teens. Done entirely in Normandy’s voice and writing as “narrative nonfiction” the book offers footnotes that are often asides between Normandy and her English teacher. This framework creates a real strength of the story, allowing for not only the story to be told but for Normandy to be writing about the past and offer some perspective on what happened. Filled with plenty of clever humor, this book is an impressive mix of tense mystery and gentle romance.

The characters are the heart of the book. Normandy reveals herself on the page and hides nothing. She shows through her own reactions to her sister’s graphic novels, which depict Normandy as entirely useless and ugly, as the only one who is thoughtful and credible in her family. As she hides from the wrath of her sister, making herself small and quiet, she also becomes her sister’s confidante. Her best friends too are intriguing mixes of truth and denial. Dusk is the artistic daughter in a family of doctors, and yet one can see her own ties to medicine through her art. Neil seems to be the son of a stereotypical middle-aged man who hits on teen girls, but both he and his father are far more lovely than that.

Strongly written with great characters and a dynamic mix of humor, romance and mystery, this teen novel is one of the best of the year so far. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

i was here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman (InfoSoup)

The author of the very popular If I Stay series returns with another winner of a read for teens. Cody is betrayed and shocked when her best friend commits suicide by drinking poison. Meg had always been the adventurous one, the smart one, the one that Cody relied on. When they graduated from high school, Meg headed off to a private school on a full scholarship. Cody was left behind in their small town and as time went by the two drifted apart. Now it is up to Cody to head to Meg’s college apartment and gather her things to bring back to Meg’s family, a family that was very much Cody’s too. While she is there, Cody discovers that there is a lot that Meg was keeping from everyone back home. There is a bunch of missing emails on Meg’s computer as well as an encrypted file that is in her computer’s trash. As Cody starts to piece Meg’s last months together and solve the mystery of what caused her death, she also grows closer to Meg’s roommates and to a boy who may have broken Meg’s heart. Cody has to figure out what caused Meg to take her own life and also how Cody can go on without her.

Forman’s writing is pure comfort reading. Her writing is solid and strong. Here she creates a small town girl longing for big city life, but it goes far beyond that. As Cody starts to understand Meg, she also starts to understand herself and the mother she has long dismissed. At the heart of the book is of course suicide, and Forman there too manages to make it about more than a tragedy. It is about the inevitable guilt and blame that surrounds a loss like this. The ways that you return again and again to the pain and the ways you manage to deny it for awhile. The story arc is wonderfully fractured, showing the starts and stops as Cody deals with different stages of grief.

Cody is a great protagonist, one who slowly begins to see who she is as the novel progresses. At first she is what she sees herself as, just a shadow of a person without Meg around. Yet as she starts to choose her own path and see her way forward, she shifts and grows. She is a person who is not desperate for a boyfriend, but desperate for the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unable to stop following the mystery, she is also clearly and wholly in denial, creating a tension that carries the entire book forward.

When great authors create more great works, it’s a beautiful thing and this is one beautiful read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

question of miracles

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

Iris and her family have just moved to Corvallis, Oregon where Iris longs for sunshine and warm weather but is constantly faced with falling rain. Iris is struggling with the death of her best friend and has very little interest in making new friends or exploring her new town. Iris meets Boris and the two slowly become friends despite the fact that Boris is a messy eater, breaths through his mouth all the time, and wants Iris to play Magic all the time. But Boris is also fascinating to Iris because his birth could have been a real miracle that the Vatican is investigating. Iris wants to know how some people get miracles and others don’t. And what’s with the haunting presence she feels in the cupboard under the stairs where her best friend’s tennis racket rests? Is it possible that there is another miracle about to happen and Iris will be able to contact her friend?

Arnold does a simply beautiful job of writing this novel. Her crafting of Iris’ world and family is done with a gentleness and detail that is inspired. And through it all, readers will feel the chill of the constantly falling rain, the loneliness of the tennis racket under the stairs, and the sorrow that leads Iris to fall asleep early often. Arnold also shows in imagery over and over again the impermanence of things. From snow angels that are stepped on to eggs that don’t hatch, she crafts moments of fragility that show the uncertainty of life.

At the same time, she uses intense moments of comfort and being together with others that are warming and stand brightly against the cold wet weather that Iris finds herself trapped in. Those moments show such hope for Iris in a way that is tangible and realistic. Arnold also allows readers to see Oregon through Iris’ eyes for the most part. While there are these moments of light and warmth, snacks and hot chocolate, readers will start to see the beauty of Oregon and the wonder of the rain only when Iris herself starts to lift out of grief. The entire process is done over time and very realistically.

Beautiful writing that is poetic and filled with imagery yet easy to read and understand, this book will speak to fans of Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 9-12

Reviewed from library copy.

dragons guide to the care and feeding of humans

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

The dragon Miss Drake has recently lost her beloved human pet, Fluffy. She is rather surprised and even irritated then when her pet’s great-niece, Winnie, shows up with a key to her lair. Winnie and her mother were given the home above Miss Drake’s and Fluffy, or Great-Aunt Amelia as she was known to Winnie left directions on how to find Miss Drake. Soon the pair are off having adventures together, though Miss Drake has plans to make Winnie far more docile and polite. After flying to a shop up in the clouds, Winnie gets a sketchbook that has a tingle of magic about it. She sets to a project of drawing each of the pretty magical creatures she has seen on their trip. But soon her drawings have come to life and left the pages of the book. Now it is up to Winnie and Miss Drake to work together to catch all of the creatures, even the one that threatens the entire city of San Francisco and the magical world.

Each chapter in this book features tips on how to best train your human pet. The entire book is filled with humor and whimsy and drenched in magic. The book is pure adventure of the fantasy sort. The world makes sense, a hidden world of magic right alongside our own, specifically in San Francisco. There are spells to keep normal people from seeing the magical ones and this book has that wonderful touch of Harry Potter where the magic is right in front of us. The writing here is playful and jolly, setting the tone of a grand adventure with plenty of danger, problems to solve, and one new best friend to discover.

Miss Drake is a grand character. Having a book with the dragon as the narrator adds to the fun of the story and also offers a unique perspective. It would have been a far different book told by Winnie, since the humor of Miss Drake is not always apparent on the surface. Winnie too is a great protagonist. She doesn’t shy away from Miss Drake even when she is rude or shows her huge teeth. She stand up to her and it looks like at the end she is going to be a very different sort of pet than Miss Drake has ever had before.

Magic and humor come together in this warm and wonderful fantasy that looks to be the first in a new series. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Crown Books for Young Readers.

roller girl

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for years, but something is changing. When Astrid’s mother takes them to see roller derby, Astrid immediately wants to do it. Nicole is more interested in doing her ballet camp. Without telling her mother that Nicole won’t be helping with carpooling, Astrid starts at roller derby camp. There she discovers that there is a lot to learn about roller skating, hitting and friendship. As Astrid struggles to keep up with the more advanced skaters at the camp, she finds herself dreaming of of being the star of the roller derby. As junior high and the roller derby show near, Astrid has to figure out how to handle her new budding friendship without losing it to jealousy and how to be a strong teammate.

Jamieson is a roller derby girl herself, so the skills and hard work depicted in this graphic novel offer plenty of detail and reality. The result is a book that shows how hard you have to work to be successful and the determination it takes to stand up over and over again after you fall down. At the same time, the tone is realistic, and does not overdramatize learning new skills and being part of a rough sport. The tone is always realistic and honest.

That same tone continues in the depiction of the friendships that Astrid has. The two friendships, one that Astrid is growing out of and one that is just beginning, are shown in all of their fragility. Astrid’s own responses are honest and depict the difficulties of a young girl trying to find her own voice and her own place in the world. Many readers will see themselves on the page, whether or not they are derby girls.

Get this one into the hands of fans of Raina Telgemeier! It’s another graphic novel with a strong and funny female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

terrible two

The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Miles is moving to Yawnee Valley along with his parents, a place with larger spaces, bigger lawns, and lots of cows.  He had been known in his last school as the prankster, but upon arrival at his first day of school Miles discovers that there is another prankster already at work.  That prankster has put the principal’s car at the top of the stairs to the entrance to the school, blocking it so that no one can enter.  So Principal Barkin is forced to have each and every kid at school climb through his car to enter the building.  Of course, he could also have had them use the back door…  Miles is introduced to Niles, a model student who is assigned as his buddy.  Niles is immensely annoying, perfect in class, kissing up to the teacher.  But NIles is also the prankster who pulled off the car stunt.  As the two become rivals, a pranking war begins, one that involves insects, pie, forgeries, and lots of cake.  Who will reign supreme at the school and will Principal Barkin survive it?

This book, which I assume is the beginning of a new series, will be adored by kids.  It has exactly the right tone and sense of humor.  The two rival boys are a delightful contrast to one another, yet equally likeable and one isn’t quite sure who to root for so you end up rooting for the prank to be great.   And what pranks they are.  Principals may not enjoy the humor here, but it is much more about this one school and a principal who loses his cool regularly than about any real prank being pulled in a real school setting.  The pranks are elaborate enough that no one is going to be taking real cues from this book.

Cornell’s illustrations add to the humor.  I particularly enjoy the cows, the cow facts done as a list, and the rubber chickens.  The book has a wonderful wildness to it, an edginess of a prank about to go wrong, that is also reflected in the zany art.  Reluctant readers will enjoy the breaking up of the text into manageable chunks. 

Get this into the hands of fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and those who are outgrowing Captain Underpants.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Abrams Books.

how to grow a friend

How to Grow a Friend by Sara Gillingham

Growing a friend is a lot like growing a flower as this picture book proves.  Just like flowers, friends need a seed and good soil.  You need space to bloom.  You need to be patient.  Sometimes your friend will bug you, but chase the bugs away together.  Don’t let your friend get stuck in the weeds.  Grow a whole garden of friends and know that there is always room for one more friend.  Along the way, the analogy of gardening strengthens the ties of the friendship, making this a very tight and strong picture book that shows that hard work, patience and time make for a great friendship.

Gillingham writes in a very earnest and straight forward tone here.  This is not a subtle analogy, but one that is presented straight to the reader.  The text of the book speaks about friendship while the illustrations show mostly the gardening aspect though at times it too is all about the human connection.  Young readers are shown clearly that friendship takes work and time.

Gillingham’s bright illustrations add greatly to the appeal of the book.  With an organic feel thanks to the texture of the prints, the illustrations have strong shapes, bright colors, and lots of patterns yet never get too busy or fussy.  They have a jaunty and frolicking feel to them that is very cheery.

Perfect for gardening and friendship story times, this picture book will have us thinking spring early this year.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

king and the magician

The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay, illustrated by Gusti

There once was a powerful king who asked his subjects who the most powerful man in the kingdom was, and they replied that he was, of course.  The one day, the King heard about a man who had a different power than he had, a humble magician who had the power to predict the future.  Even worse, the King discovered that the magician was well respected and beloved.  So the King called the Magician before him after devising an evil plan.  He would ask the Magician if he could really tell the future.  If the Magician answered “No” then he proved he had no power.  If he answered “Yes” then the King would ask him to predict his own death.  Either way, the King would immediately kill him.  But then a strange thing happened and the Magician declared that he could see the future and that he would die at the same time as the King.  Suddenly, the King’s plan meant nothing.  He could not kill the Magician without hurting himself.  So instead he started protecting the Magician.  Still, the Magician had much more to teach him, if the King would listen.

Bucay has created a picture book that has depths to it.  It is a fairy tale of a king and a magician but it is also about creating one’s fate, listening to wisdom and being willing to change.  It is a book that continues even after some may have ended it with the Magician ensconced in luxury and being protected by the King.  Happily, it doesn’t end there, because the more profound part of the story follows when the relationship between the two men burgeons into friendship and deep caring for one another.  It is a story of how enemies become friends, how power can be used for good.  In a word, it’s exceptional.

Gusti’s illustrations add to that feeling of a very rich and amazing read.  Using paint and collage, the illustrations have a still regal bearing.  There is a strength and solidity to them that grounds this story, making it more realistic.  There are also touches of whimsy, like the teddy bear that accompanies the powerful king everywhere. 

Strong, enchanting and profound, this picture book will start discussions about power, enemies and truth.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

swallow

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Set in Toronto in the sixties, this book is about two lonely girls living in homes that attach to one another.  Polly has a huge family with foster siblings too.  She feels ignored by all of them, though she can’t get away from her twin brothers and their noise.  That’s how she finds her way into the attic as a safe place away from the bustle of her family.  Polly has always wanted to meet a ghost, which is why she thinks that Rose is a ghost the first time she hears her singing in her neighboring attic.  But Rose turns out to be a real girl, who just happens to look very ghostlike too.  Rose has always been able to see ghosts, and she hates it since they never leave her alone.  Rose spends a lot of her days alone, no one at school talks to her, her parents are very busy business people, and the housekeeper ignores her.  So the two girls quickly form a close friendship, made even closer by the frightening ghost that looks just like Rose and who threatens Polly’s life.  Can the two girls figure out who this ghost is and what she wants?

I seem to be on a roll with Canadian children’s book authors lately, and this is another wonderful Canadian read.  Cotter creates a mystery inside a ghost story that twists and turns delightfully along the way.  Readers will think they have it all figured out and then the story will change.  Yet somehow Cotter makes it all work and in the end the entire novel makes great sense, enough that readers will want to start again to see the clues they may have missed.

The writing here is exceptional.  Cotter writes with a confident voice, one that allows each of these girls to be entire unique.  The two of them are quite different from one another, each clearly resulting from their very divergent upbringings.  The friendship also reads as real with small arguments happening regularly and the two girls having to repair these small issues.  Through the entire book there is a wonderful ghostly presence, a feeling of being in a real place but one unseen by others.  It’s a place that is a delight to visit.

Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight, this strong ghost story is both entertaining and riveting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

flora and the penguin

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

This is a delightful wintry follow-up to Flora and the Flamingo, a book that stole my heart when it came out.  With clear connections to the ballet of the first book, this second book has Flora on ice skates swirling with a penguin.  Flora puts on her skates and the penguin climbs out of the water and the two glide together across the page, through different flaps to lift, landing synchronized jumps side-by-side.  But then the penguin disappears back into the water and Flora is left skating alone.  The penguin returns with a fish for Flora, but Flora tosses it back into the water.  The penguin is entirely angry and dejected, so Flora figures out how to repair the budding friendship. 

Idle tells so much in her wordless books.  Who knew that a penguin could communicate so very clearly with the tip of its head, the tilt of its wings and the set of its shoulders.  Flora too communicates her feelings clearly on the page to great effect.  It’s a book that explores friendship, dance and the joy of winter play.

The illustrations are top notch, they invite the reader to glide along with them.  The flaps on different pages are ingenious ways to have readers participate, culminating in one amazing jump the two characters do together.  They amazingly leap right off the page, or perhaps it’s the book that leaps out to catch them.  Beautiful, icy and pure joy.

Another magnificent offering by Molly Idle, this book will be embraced by fans of the first and will make a great holiday gift.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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